The British & Irish Lions could make history on an eight-game tour of South Africa in 2021, with Warren Gatland’s side set to play in front of the largest-ever crowd for a Lions Test since the game turned professional, after the itinerary was jointly announced on Wednesday.
Rassie Erasmus, SA Director of Rugby, said the keenly awaited tour was a once-in-a-lifetime playing opportunity for South African players.
“There are players who have been to three Rugby World Cups and finished their careers with a winner’s medal and yet never got to play against the Lions,” said Erasmus.
“They only come around every 12 years for our players and only a few of them ever have the privilege of wearing the Springbok jersey in a Lions series.
“The Lions have not lost a series since they were last here a decade ago and they will present next-level challenge in 18 months’ time.
“Warren Gatland is a massively experienced and astute coach with a phenomenal record with the Lions and the rugby experience for our players and public will rival that of a Rugby World Cup,” added Erasmus.
“The Lions performed extremely well on their previous two tours (through Australia and New Zealand) and will no doubt relish the opportunity to add the Springboks’ scalp to their belt.”
The Springboks lifted the Webb Ellis Cup for the third time recently in Japan, with Erasmus promising that the search would now begin for consistency, especially with the crunch Lions tour due in just under 18 months' time.
“It is now something like 600 days until the British & Irish Lions arrive in South Africa and we have already started with planning for that,” said Erasmus.
“The Lions will operate like a well-oiled machine and we will have to work very hard to match them in every department, on and off the field.”
British & Irish Lions head coach, Warren Gatland, is delighted with an itinerary he believes will allow his side to be perfectly prepared for the three Test matches which complete the Tour.
“I am absolutely thrilled with how this schedule looks,” said Gatland, whose Lions beat Australia in 2013 and drew the series with New Zealand in 2017.
“Touring South Africa is always a huge challenge, not only from a rugby perspective, but also in terms of the venues and the conditions facing the players.
“We are very comfortable that three of the games, two of which are Test matches, will be played at altitude. Our schedule falls in a way to allow us to start at sea level before building up and acclimatising to the unique environment that playing at altitude presents.
“Ensuring the team are absolutely primed for the Test matches is a critical element of any Lions Tour, and I am confident the quality of opposition we will face in the opening weeks will get us ready to take on the Springboks. The Bulls, Sharks and Stormers are all tough sides and present different challenges, which is exactly what we want.
“Moreover, the venues we have agreed – some of which will be new to the Lions – open up the matches to a vast audience and will undoubtedly provide an unforgettable experience for the players and travelling supporters alike.
“We are very much looking forward to touring this wonderful country.”