By Peter Jackson
The Lions will be asked to break new ground in South Africa in 2021.
The Springboks are understood to be drawing up plans for the three-Test series to feature two new venues including the Soccer City stadium in Johannesburg whose capacity of almost 95,000 means the Lions could break all box-office records.
Talks on the tour are due to start in Sydney later this month when SARU is expected to table a proposal for the 55,000-seater Green Point stadium in Cape Town to stage a Test along with Soccer City and Johannesburg’s Ellis Park.
SARU president Mark Alexander said yesterday: “We are in negotiation with the Lions and with the stadium authorities,’’ he said. “We want to maximise the opportunity to play in the bigger stadiums.
“We are looking at locations and that’s still up for discussion.”
The Lions have still to hammer out a new agreement with the SANZAR Unions on future tours and where they fit into the new global season. The last agreement expired with the drawn series in New Zealand last year.
Discussions will take place around the World Rugby meeting in Australia at the end of the month. “A lot will be up for grabs and in a rapidly changing commercial world it may not be practical to replace the previous 12-year agreement with one that long,’’ a Lions source said.
“The proposal to cut the number of matches to eight came from the global season meeting in San Francisco last year but nothing’s been set in stone. Eight matches for a Lions tour is the absolute minimum. Anything less and it ceases to be a tour.’’
Lions tours to South Africa have been shrinking since the drawn series in 1955 when the flight from London to Johannesburg alone took 36 hours.
That 25-match tour lasted for more than three months. Since then the number of matches have been reduced tour by tour, from 22 (1974), 18 (1980), 13 (1997) to ten (2009).
“Lions tours are always special,’’ Alexander said. “The more games, the better. We would like to have ten games but we understand the dynamic of negotiating with four different countries.’’
Successive Lions tour managers have railed against the lack of preparation time, blaming the English Premiership clubs for their consistent refusal to reschedule their Grand Final from the last Saturday in May.
John Spencer, the former England and Lions centre who managed the New Zealand tour, said: ‘’The new Lions’ CEO (Ben Clevely) is well aware of the problems we experienced. The trouble with going down to eight matches is that you have to start all the players in the first three matches so they are all given an equal chance.
“That leaves you with only two other matches in which to try out your combinations before the three Tests. The chances of the Lions being successful diminishes all the time.”
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