British & Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland is advancing his preparations for the series against the Springboks which appears almost certain to not be hosted in South Africa.
The Rugby Paper understands Gatland has spent this week in Jersey exploring the Strive Academy, the island’s multi-million pound high performance complex close to nearing its construction in St Peter.
With building set to be completed in May, the state-of-the-art facility would fit the requirements of the Lions for the series that is increasingly growing further away from being hosted in South Africa this summer.
Expected to rival the best facilities available anywhere in Europe, Strive Academy is located adjacent to Jersey Reds’ home ground and would be a move away from Gatland’s usual base at the Vale of Glamorgan resort in Wales.
After reports earlier this week said the Lions board had requested the UK government under-write a ‘home tour’ held in the UK and Ireland, the prospect of London, Cardiff, Edinburgh and Dublin hosting the tour has also led the Springboks to make initial enquires about the same base on Jersey, according to one source.
TRP was also told the Springboks had checked on the availability of a seven-week stay at one of Jersey’s largest hotels over June and July.
This comes after South Africa’s hopes of hosting the tour were dented by its suspension of its vaccine rollout programme earlier in February, but resumed last week after the country’s government ditched the AstraZeneca vaccine for Johnson & Johnson.
Pressure from the home unions and IRFU to make the tour happen this year, rather than be delayed to 2022, has been placed on the Lions board to avoid clashing with England, Wales Scotland and Ireland tours of the summer hemisphere in 2022.
As unions tentatively plot their financial recovery, which RFU chief executive Bill Sweeney said last year could take six years, revenue from reciprocating tours at home venues is paramount when compared with the share of proceeds from Lions tours.
The drawn series against the All Blacks in 2017 created a surplus of £5m shared equally amongst the four unions, a figure unable to compete with the £4m-8m Wales and Ireland raise on fully-attended matchdays. While England are believed to raise close to £20m from matches against the All Blacks at Twickenham.
Elsewhere, the Lions are set to secure a broadcast rights deal that will see the tour return to terrestrial television for the first time in 28 years.
The Telegraph has reported that Channel 4 are in the advanced stages of finalising an agreement which will open up the 2021 Lions tour to a free-to-air audience.
Channel 4 will produce a highlights show of tour matches, while Sky Sports will televise live coverage of all eight matches as it has done since the 1997 series in South Africa.
Reporting by Jon Newcombe and Adam Ellis