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By Peter Jackson
Wales are to receive a seven-figure windfall as their share of the profit from last summer’s Lions tour of New Zealand.
The Rugby Paper understands that the expedition has generated a record £5m surplus for equal distribution among the four home countries.
The £1.25m return for each of the home countries provides further proof of the Lions’ unique commercial clout. The New Zealanders made not far short of £20m from the tour.
The NZRFU have reported a total income from last year’s tour of more than £125m, prompting chief executive Steve Tew to acclaim it as ‘an incredibly successful event’.
Concern that the Lions may prove too successful for their own good have been heightened by yet another shortening of the schedule for the next tour, to South Africa in 2021, from ten matches to eight and by one week, from six to five.
That has renewed fears of the Lions becoming an endangered species. Laurie Mains, the former All Black full-back and coach, believes that the end of the Lions ‘could be the biggest tragedy in world rugby’.
The English Premiership clubs are opposed to retaining the ten-match schedule because of the impact on the finale of their domestic season. Negotiations for the next three Lions tours with SANZAR had been scheduled for completion in the next few weeks.
That was before last week’s departure of Lions’ and Six Nations’ chief executive John Feehan after 16 years as one of the most successful power-brokers in the world game.
Feehan has warned that ‘if the Lions are killed off over the next three tours the Northern Hemisphere leverage is gone and a great brand of rugby is gone’.
RFU president John Spencer, who in his capacity as Lions’ manager condemned further shrinkage of the quadrennial tour as ‘madness’, paid tribute to Feehan.
“All Lions are appreciative of the very hard work John has done in maintaining the brand of the Lions,’’ Spencer said.
On the Six Nations front, Feehan ran into flak last winter from Scotland and Wales as both countries were critical of the failure to raise more than £14m-a-year for the title rights.
Wales should name Warren Gatland’s successor this summer as planned. It’s understood to be a straight fight between Scarlets’ head coach Wayne Pivac and his Glasgow counterpart, fellow New Zealander Dave Rennie.
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