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Rugby Australia seeks to take on Lions tour

Rugby Australia (RA) has made a proposal to stage the British & Irish Lions’ tour to South Africa, offering the potential to ensure strong fan attendance by tapping into the expat community in the country.

RA has made the offer as South African Rugby and the Lions continue to draw up a plan on how best to stage the tour during COVID-19. The tour is currently scheduled to run from July 3 to August 7, culminating with three Test matches on July 24, July 31 and August 7.

Johannesburg’s ‘Soccer City’ FNB Stadium, which staged the 2010 FIFA World Cup final, is due to host the first Test on July 24, before Cape Town Stadium hosts the second Test on July 31. The Lions will return to Johannesburg for the third and final Test against the world champions at Emirates Airline Park, the site of the 1995 Rugby World Cup final, on August 7.

British & Irish Lions managing director Ben Calveley last month said the Lions board has had repeated meetings to discuss all scenarios available and is in constant dialogue. Calveley added that the board would meet throughout January and into February, if required, to review all relevant information and data.

The Lions and SA Rugby are understood to be discussing three scenarios – staging the tour in South Africa as planned but behind closed doors, postponing by a year, or potentially moving the series to be played in the UK and Ireland. However, RA has instead proposed the tour be staged in Australia, potentially allowing fans in the country to attend games.

In the proposal made by RA chairman Hamish McLennan, SA Rugby and the Lions would share the profits from the three-Test series, with RA taking enough to cover its costs, along with having the ability for Australian Super Rugby teams to play warm-up games against the Lions.

“Ultimately it’s their call,” McLennan told the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper. “What we learnt from the Tri Nations last year and the tennis that’s happening now is that Australia can successfully stage global tournaments in a COVID world.

“It’s particularly tough in the UK and South Africa at the moment and I believe the more international rugby that gets played here, the better. We’re here to help.”

The Herald said Perth would almost certainly be handed one of the three Tests, owing to the large number of expats from the UK, Ireland and South Africa in Western Australia. Brisbane and Sydney are considered leading contenders for the other two games.

“There is a multi-generational expat community for both South Africa and the UK out here,” said McLennan. “I’m confident there would be great patronage for the Tests. Remember, they are some of our biggest communities in Australia. I’m sure we would get a fantastic turnout.”

RA is also understood to view the proposal as a strategic one as it presses on with a bid to host the 2027 Rugby World Cup. Australia co-hosted the inaugural 1987 Rugby World Cup with New Zealand before staging the tournament in its own right in 2003. The 2027 host is due to be decided in May 2022, with RA said to be of the belief that a successful staging of the South Africa tour may win it favour with the Lions member unions.

While the Lions have confirmed RA’s offer, UK newspaper The Guardian said it is likely to be rejected with financial and logistical challenges putting it behind either a closed doors series or relocation to the UK and Ireland.