The British and Irish Lions make the trip south again this summer, and this time they are headed to the home of the double-defending Rugby World Cup champions, New Zealand.
Warren Gatland will once again lead the Lions as they look to repeat their heroics of four years ago, when they recorded a 2-1 series victory over the mighty Australia. Against the All Blacks, the challenge that awaits the best of the home nations will be even greater.
In addition to the three test matches, the Lions will take on provincial and club sides in seven additional games throughout the country and give prospective test starters the chance to prove themselves to Gatland and his coaches.
It is being reported by the Daily Mail, however, that growing pressure from English clubs could well see the ten-match tour reduced to eight as part of the push for a global season that aligns both the northern and southern hemisphere calendars.
It is reported that the Lions committee may be unable to stop the reformation of the tour schedule, with Lions chief executive John Feehan conceding that a compromise is likely the only way forward.
“‘Compromise has to be part of the deal. There may be some adjusting — timing, the number of games — but the key point is that all of the unions recognise the importance of the Lions.”
This follows Feehan’s early season stance that suggested the summer fixtures were not for changing.
There is a fear now that if the tour schedule is to be compressed or truncated, it could hamper the Lions’ preparations for defeating the All Blacks on home soil, a feat they have not managed to do since 1971.
That year the Lions undertook a 26-match tour. Since then the fixture count has steadily reduced to the ten planned for this summer.
In a schedule that is already quite tight, reducing it further would be a serious faux pas for travelling fans. The Lions tour is a celebration of the best of the home countries, taking on the best the world’s rugby powerhouses have to offer.
Messing with the system and schedule, in the interest of gaining a domestic advantage, seems almost sacrilegious.
Fans now await the response from Gatland and Feehan but they will be hoping the ten-match schedule remains unchanged.
Gary Brennan, Pundit Arena
This week’s edition of The Oval Office, we discuss all things Six Nations with George Hook, Paul Williams from Rugby World magazine and former Ireland u-20 international Adam McBurney.