The British and Irish Lions tour of South Africa is now, somewhat remarkably, all systems going Tuesday after a dramatic turnaround.
The odds of playing the games in South Africa appeared dead due to Covid issues, with a potentially vaccine-degrading variant of the virus spreading across the country.
But now the plans for the team are to play three Test games against the world champion from the end of June, as well as five other games. So how did we get here? Sportsmail’s rugby correspondent Chris Foy explains …
After all, the British and Irish lions will be touring South Africa later this year
So the lions will tour South Africa. Will there be crowds?
Time will tell. There is no certainty about this at this stage, although the logical assumption is that unfortunately there is no chance that British and Irish fans will be allowed to travel for the matches.
The most feasible best-case scenario is that the COVID problems in South Africa diminish enough for a very limited number of local spectators to attend, but even that is highly questionable.
I thought there were plans to organize the tour here … what has changed?
The problem was the persistent uncertainty about the admission of crowds and the attendant ambiguity about the financial implications.
The Lions approached the British government hoping they would endorse a ‘home trip’ to provide a safety net in the event of new lockdown restrictions requiring fixtures to be kept behind closed doors anyway, but they were refused. From that moment on, the writing hung on the wall.
It looks like there will be a limited crowd at best for the games in South Africa
Did Tuesday’s announcement surprise everyone in the game?
Rumors have been circulating for a few weeks that the Lions board was starting to err on the side of a South African tour again, but there had been so much speculation in recent months that the picture was very blurry.
At the beginning of this week, the situation quickly progressed and the sudden official announcement has certainly taken a lot of people by surprise.
What role did the sponsors and TV companies play in the decision?
They have been deeply involved in the behind-the-scenes negotiations, as essential ‘stakeholders’ in the event. Sky Sports was known to be in favor of the concept of a traditional tour, but was willing to accept that matches would be moved to the UK and Ireland, as long as they have a suitably large event to broadcast.
The Lions have lucrative commercial deals with several blue-chip sponsors, and Vodafone has been an influential player, as has Castle Lager – the series’ sponsors – in South Africa.
While the tour is underway, it will be a noticeably different line-up for the players making up the roster
At this stage, it looks like players will be living in a Covid-safe bubble throughout the tour
Was the South African RU insured against Covid and played without fans?
It is unclear what level of coverage the South African authorities managed to obtain, as all indications are that insurers have largely withdrawn policies that allow payouts related to COVID.
For a long time, it was emphasized that matches in South Africa would not be a financially viable scenario without an audience, but they have now agreed to go ahead, so it must be assumed that they have at least distributed a support package with their own government.
Do fans get a full refund with packages?
There has been a huge turnout for this tour and it was expected that around 30,000 supporters would make the journey from the UK and Ireland, ensuring the lions were roared by another huge ‘Red Army’, in keeping with the modern day time. tradition.
Fans will likely have the option to cancel soon for a full refund, or to decide to continue with their travel plans, but at the risk of losing the money they spent if a COVID disruption occurs in the short term .
South Africa, the World Cup holders, will face the Lions without a rowdy home crowd
How is the tour likely different from a normal Lions tour?
It will simply lack the usual vibrant background of color and noise and partisan passion. South Africa is an immensely proud rugby country and their audience would have liked to greet the lions with hostility to increase the Springboks’ chances.
If there are no crowds there will be huge empty stands, so matches can even be switched to smaller venues in that case. Matches can be concentrated in one or two convenient centers, rather than feeling like a rural event.
The number of matches of the pre-Test tour can be reduced in number. It will be different in many ways.
To some, the idea of being in a bubble may seem particularly unappealing compared to how much the situation in Britain might be different by the time June arrives.
Will the players be hidden in bubbles throughout the journey?
Again, this factor is subject to further planning and clarification.
The assumption at this stage is that the lions will have to operate in a strict bubble, as COVID is far from under control in South Africa – where the vaccination program is not really yet to get off the ground.
Players are desperate to represent the Lions, but the thought of flying away from families and keeping activity strictly limited just when the UK can no longer be shut down may force some to consider getting involved.
LIONS TOUR OF SOUTH AFRICA
03/07/2021 – DHL Stormers v British & Irish Lions, Cape Town Stadium, Cape Town
07/07/2021 – South Africa ‘Invitational’ against British & Irish Lions, Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth
07/10/2021 – Cell C Sharks v British & Irish Lions, Jonsson Kings Park, Durbam
14/07/2021 – South Africa ‘A’ against British & Irish Lions, Mbombela Stadium, Mbombela
07/17/2021 – Vodacom Bulls v British & Irish Lions, Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
24/07/2021 – Springboks against British & Irish Lions, FNB Stadium, Johannesburg
31/07/2021 – Springboks v British & Irish Lions, Cape Town Stadium, Cape Town
08/07/2021 – Springboks v British & Irish Lions, Emirates Airline Park, Johannesburg