The schedule for the British and Irish Lions tour of South Africa in 2021 has been announced, and it involves eight matches in five weeks.


This is two games fewer than the 2017 tour of New Zealand, which may help head coach Warren Gatland in terms of player management. This is also the first time in the professional era that a midweek match is not played between the three Tests matches, however, there are new problems to contend with against the world champions.

One thing that has been noted by those from the home nations and South Africa is that two Tests are to be played at altitude in Johannesburg. The first match is played at the FNB Stadium, before a move to Cape Town for the second Test at sea-level, and a return to Johannesburg for the third encounter at South Africa’s home of rugby, Ellis Park.

While some have questioned why two matches are played in the same city when there are other contenders, playing at altitude will certainly be a factor. Of course, both Bloemfontein and Pretoria could have been options at a similar elevation, but the main priority would always have been to take the visitors outside their comfort zone.

Some may not think that this will be too consequential, but these are the margins that could help clinch another historic series for the Springboks. Not only does this take its toll on the players physically, but the ball travels further, which gives the game a different complexion; something the players in green will be accustomed to. With a warm-up game in Pretoria against the Vodacom Bulls, this will give the Lions a chance to acclimatise and prepare for what will be two demanding Tests.


England were the most recent side to encounter the rigours of playing at altitude in a series against the Springboks in 2018. The first two matches were played in Johannesburg and Bloemfontein and followed similar formats; England started strongly and opened up a lead (a 21 point lead in the first Test), but petered out as the games progressed, losing both.

The third Test, played in Cape Town, saw England come away with the victory, albeit against a changed South African outfit.

This Lions squad has the potential to be one of the best ever with England and Wales having great 2019s, and capable of beating the world champions anywhere. However, in what may be a series that is determined by razor-thin margins, altitude could play a part.

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