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The itinerary was confirmed last week, with the Lions to play eight matches on a five-week long tour.
Mick Cleary, writing for the UK-based The Telegraph, said the “death knell for the British and Irish Lions was sounded last week”.
“It is five weeks, eight games, only two midweek fixtures, and that is your lot. That lot is a betrayal of the essence of the Lions. That lot is perverse, self-serving and short-sighted. The pared-down-to-beyond-bare-bones itinerary will be the ruination of the Lions as players realise that if they are not of immediate first-team material then their selection goose is effectively cooked before departure. They will be tackle-bag holders and nothing else,” he wrote.
The eight-game schedule includes six weekend fixtures; three against Super Rugby teams the Bulls, Sharks and Stormers, and two midweek fixtures against an invitational side in Port Elizabeth and South Africa ‘A’ in Nelspruit.
On their past three tours – New Zealand (2017, Australia 2013 and South Africa (2009) – the Lions played 10 games.
When they toured New Zealand in 2005 there were 12 fixtures, including a match against Argentina in Cardiff prior to departure.
Cleary added that in 2021’s tour there would not be enough games for players to stake a claim in the “first XV”.
“They (the players) need to press their claims, they need to show that they can form partnerships, at lock, in the back row, in midfield, wherever. We can all write a Test XV on a fag paper now. Only (coach) Warren Gatland, though, can do it properly. Let us not reduce him or the Lions to fag-paper status.”
He compared the Lions tour to golf’s Ryder Cup, which is contested between the USA and Europe every two years.
“As with the Ryder Cup the Lions bring a new audience. It is a romantic notion, something different. To reduce it to five weeks is to risk making it like so many other competitions – wham, bam, get it done and move on.
“The true richness of a tour, for players as well as for followers, lies in the coming together of the team, the trying, the striving, the sifting and then the buy-in from all concerned. It is a holistic experience or it is nothing.”
Full British & Irish Lions 2021 tour schedule:
Saturday, July 3: British & Irish Lions v Stormers – Cape Town Stadium, Cape Town
Wednesday, July 7: British & Irish Lions v SA ‘Invitational’ – Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth
Saturday, July 10: British & Irish Lions v Sharks – Kings Park, Durban
Wednesday, July 14: British & Irish Lions v South Africa ‘A’ – Mbombela Stadium, Nelspruit
Saturday, July 17: British & Irish Lions v Bulls – Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
Saturday, July 24 (1st Test): Springboks v British & Irish Lions – FNB Stadium, Johannesburg
Saturday, July 31 (2nd Test): Springboks v British & Irish Lions – Cape Town Stadium, Cape Town
Saturday, August 7 (3rd Test): Springboks v British & Irish Lions – Ellis Park, Johannesburg
– Compiled by Herman Mostert