This summer’s Lions tour to South Africa is now likely to take place as originally scheduled after Rugby Football Union chief executive Bill Sweeney insisted discussions with the hosts are at an advanced stage. Sweeney revealed that the preferred contingency plan of staging the tour in the UK appears increasingly unviable. “We’re running out of time for a UK option, frankly. The days are ticking by,” Sweeney said.

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“The preferred position has always been to go to South Africa and play in South Africa, either with crowds or behind closed doors. We’re in a critical dialogue to confirm what they are capable of doing around the Lions going to South Africa.”

The Lions board turned down an offer from Australia to stage the tour earlier this month. Sweeney added: “The Lions board has been meeting pretty much weekly for some time now. It’s not completely finalised yet. There was a possible Australian option which has gone away.”

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Former Ireland and Lions back-rower Stephen Ferris guests on RugbyPass All Access

Sweeney indicated that if South Africa were unable to host the Lions tour then it will be cancelled. RugbyPass had reported earlier on Tuesday about how the latest tour speculation had swung back in favour of the tour going ahead in South Africa rather than it being staged in the UK.

Speculation about the Lions and about what to do next July has been never-ending in recent months, with even that eventually declined offer from Rugby Australia to host the Lions-Springboks series there. The Aussies had hosted the Tri-Nations last November and there were no restrictions on crowds being able to attend, something that could not be guaranteed if the tour went ahead in South Africa or the UK.

A speculative UK Telegraph report on Tuesday read: “It is understood the widely-publicised contingency plan of relocating the eight-match tour to the UK and Ireland has been dismissed by the Lions board, owing to time, logistics and expense.

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“There is still uncertainty about whether crowds will be permitted to attend matches in July and August. Talks are taking place with the South Africa Rugby to finalise details and address the challenges presented by the Covid-19 pandemic. An official announcement is expected within the next 48 hours.”

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