The Lions will tour South Africa next summer with the first of five warm-up matches kicking off on 3 July before a three-Test series against the world champion Springboks from 24 July until 7 August.
With the 2020/21 Premiership season expected to get underway on 21 November providing this season can be completed as planned, English clubs will have little more than seven months to squeeze in a full season before the scheduled 26 June final, with the Lions set to depart for South Africa two days later to prepare to face the Stormers the following weekend.
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The coronavirus pandemic that brought a halt to rugby union worldwide has threatened the game like never before, with unions experiencing huge losses and players forced to take pay cuts due to the financial impact of the crisis. The fixture pile-up has also seen the Six Nations as well as Premiership and European fixtures postponed, while the Pro14 season was abandoned, but the Lions confirmed on Wednesday that talks with the South African Rugby Union have led to a decision that the tour will go on as scheduled.
“The Covid-19 pandemic has caused a lot of disruption to the sporting calendar, but after extensive discussions we are now able to confirm that the tour dates are as previously announced,” said British and Irish Lions managing director Ben Calveley.
“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.”
South Africa Rugby chief executive Jurie Roux added: “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.”
South Africa initially limited the number of coronavirus cases and deaths after implementing a strong lockdown that has devastated the economy in the Rainbow Nation, but it is currently suffering from a second wave nationwide.
President Cyril Ramaphosa said at the start of the week that “the storm is upon us” when addressing the country’s soaring infection rate, which has gone from just over 33,000 confirmed cases at the start of June more than 283,000 on Monday – more than triple Africa’s next worst-hit nation Egypt.
“It is stretching our resources and our resolve to their limits,” President Ramaphosa added.
It has also been announced that Sky Sports have won the broadcast rights to continue to show the Lions tour for what will be a seventh consecutive series.
Having first shown the 1997 series victory over the Springboks, Sky will show all eight games across July and August where the Lions will take on a South African side that for the third successive tour will boast the title of world champions, having beaten England in last year’s World Cup final.
Rob Webster, Sky Sports Managing Director, said: “There are a handful of events in the sporting calendar that truly transcend their sport, and a Lions tour is one of them. It’s a moment in time, where the home nations come together to take on the best in the world.
“We’re hugely proud of our association with the Lions, and we’re looking forward to bringing our customers every twist and turn of what is sure to be a spectacular tour.”