The Lions will roar across South Africa next summer after rugby’s greatest tour was given the go-ahead to take place as scheduled.
Weeks of uncertainty ended this morning when organisers confirmed that the eight-match trip, culminating in three Tests against the world champion Springboks, is on.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a lot of disruption to the sporting calendar,” admitted British & Irish Lions managing director Ben Calveley.
“But after extensive discussions we are now able to confirm that the Tour dates are as previously announced.”
Both parties had been prepared to push the tour back into the autumn if it freed up a summer slot for global rugby to at least make a start on repairing its parlous financial situation.
Instead, it will start as planned in Cape Town on July 3 and run through to August 7, when the final Test is staged at Ellis Park.
Calveley said: “An enormous amount of planning, especially from a logistical perspective, goes into putting on a Lions series, so it was crucial that a decision was agreed upon in good time.
“I am particularly pleased that we are able to provide some clarity for all those Lions supporters eager to travel to South Africa next summer.”
The Lions last won a series in South Africa in 1997, when again the Boks were World Cup holders. On their next visit, in 2009, they came out on the wrong end of a 2-1 result in what was a brutally physical series.
Given the way South Africa outmuscled England to comprehensively win the World Cup final in Japan back in November, an equally punishing contest is anticipated.
Sky Sports, for a seventh successive Lions tour, have acquired the broadcast rights.
Jurie Roux, the chief executive of SA Rugby, said: “We’re delighted to confirm the Tour dates remain the same.
“The whole of South Africa is looking forward to welcoming the Lions and we continue progressing our plans to provide travelling supporters with a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
Full 2021 tour schedule:
· Saturday 3 July: British & Irish Lions v DHL Stormers – Cape Town Stadium, Cape Town
· Wednesday 7 July: British & Irish Lions v South Africa ‘Invitational’ – Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth
· Saturday 10 July: British & Irish Lions v Cell C Sharks – Jonsson Kings Park, Durban
· Wednesday 14 July: British & Irish Lions v South Africa ‘A’ Team – Mbombela Stadium, Nelspruit
· Saturday 17 July: British & Irish Lions v Vodacom Bulls – Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
· Saturday 24 July (first Test): Springboks v British & Irish Lions – FNB Stadium, Johannesburg
· Saturday 31 July (second Test): Springboks v British & Irish Lions – Cape Town Stadium, Cape Town
· Saturday 7 August (third Test): Springboks v British & Irish Lions – Emirates Airline Park, Johannesburg
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