Ian McGeechan has weighed in on the uncertainty surrounding this summer’s British and Irish Lions Tour to South Africa. It is looking increasingly unlikely that the tour can go ahead as planned due to the escalating Covid crisis in South Africa, with a number of contingency plans believed to be under consideration.
A postponement until 2022 is one option, although there have also been calls to move the tour to Britain in Ireland if that would allow the games to take place this year.
The prospect of moving the tour out of South Africa doesn’t sit well with some, but McGeechan, who led the Lions as head coach on four occasions, says it could provide a major lift for rugby after a devastating 12 months.
“Where do I stand? Well, I like to think of myself as a Lions traditionalist,” McGeechan wrote in his Telegraph column.
“Lions are tourists and, particularly since the watershed tour of 1997, now have an incredible relationship with their fans which continues to grow.
“But right now rugby needs the Lions more than perhaps at any time in its history and the tour needs to happen if at all possible. If that has to be in the British Isles then so be it.
“It would not be the same, but it would be historic in its own way, and it would be popular. Lions tours hold a unique place in the rugby firmament.”
There are also issues surrounding preparations and scheduling for the tour, with the Springboks yet to have played any rugby since the 2019 Rugby World Cup final, while in Europe there is fresh doubt over the Six Nations and remaining rounds of the Heineken Champions Cup.
“You could not hope for a better pick-me-up after such a tough year,” McGeechan said.
“I do not think a postponement is ideal. In 2022, there will be only one year until the next World Cup and some nations have already agreed to summer tours. I would rather see it take place this summer, wherever that is.
“Ideally in South Africa, but we have to accept that health and safety comes first. If it is impossible to stage the tour there, or they cannot do so with fans – a possibility that has previously been deemed “commercially unviable” by the chief executive of South Africa Rugby – and we can do so safely here, I would be happy with that.
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“Some people may consider that sacrilege; a betrayal of 140 years of touring. The Lions are the greatest tourists on earth, they will say. I agree, they are. But we have not had a global pandemic like this for more than 100 years, either.
“We have to keep an open mind. The Lions have played on home soil before. Why not again? It would be different. But it would still be special.”
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