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Lions and Barbarians lined up for Twickenham

The Lions are planning to play the Barbarians at Twickenham for the first time since the Gareth Edwards-Phil Bennett era more than 40 years ago.

The Rugby Paper understands that the fixture is being backed by Lions chairman Jason Leonard as an ideal send-off immediately before the three-Test series against South Africa at the end of next season.

The shrinking of the tour to an all-time low of eight matches squeezed into five weeks gives the Baa-baas’ proposal a significance far beyond that of a mere money-making venture.

The touring club’s global status guarantees a serious match-day preparation for the best of British and Irish.

It also enables the Lions to avoid breaking an unwritten rule to avoid playing official Test matches at home wherever possible. They broke it at Cardiff in May 2005 when a Jonny Wilkinson penalty deep into stoppage time gave Sir Clive Woodward’s Lions a fortuitous 25-25 draw against Argentina just before they left for their drubbing in New Zealand.

The Lions first played at home, at Twickenham in September 1977, as part of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee celebrations.

Bennett, tour captain during their 3-1 series defeat in New Zealand that same year, led the Lions home 23-14 against a stellar Baa-baas XV featuring Edwards, JPR Williams and Gerald Davies.

The other occasion followed the abandonment of the Lions’ tour of South Africa in 1986 when the Four Home Unions made a belated stand against the Republic’s apartheid policy. Instead of the trip of a lifetime, the chosen few had to make do with a wet April evening in Cardiff.

The Lions, captained by Scotland hooker Colin Deans, coached by the late Mick Doyle and managed by Clive Rowlands, played a one-off midweek match at the Arms Park against a Rest of the World team. Unlike 2005, neither match was granted Test status.

The Springboks intend cashing in on their World Cup triumph and the charisma of the Lions by staging one of the three Tests in the summer of 2021 at their largest stadium – the 94,736-seater Soccer City built on the outskirts of Johannesburg for the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

A full-house will break all box-office records for any Lions match anywhere, eclipsing the 90,000 at Ellis Park in 1955. The touring team want the other two Tests to be at sea-level, in Cape Town and Durban where successive victories gave them the series in 1997.

PETER JACKSON

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