LONDON (Reuters) - Wales skipper Alun Wyn Jones says the captains of the four home unions want the British & Irish Lions tour of South Africa to go ahead this year rather than 2022, but the likely absence of fans in that case would be a “travesty”.
The tour, scheduled for July 3-Aug. 7, is in doubt due to the COVID-19 pandemic that remains a crisis in South Africa and Britain, and various alternative scenarios are being discussed.
These include playing three tests against the world champion Springboks in the United Kingdom and Ireland, or pushing matches back 12 months, which brings its own complications with a full international calendar in the year before the next World Cup.
Jones, a veteran of three Lions tours, including their last trip to South Africa in 2009, suggests it would be tough to find a date for the fixtures if they are not played as scheduled.
“I think it needs to go ahead this year, but the jury is out on where it will happen,” he told reporters on Wednesday. “It would be a travesty if the fans were not able to go and see it. But from a captain’s perspective, I think we all agree that, if it can, it should go ahead this year.”
His view was echoed by Scotland’s Stuart Hogg.
“Health and safety must be the primary focus in the decision,” he said.
“The Lions is an incredible time for everybody involved, players and supporters, so hopefully there is some way the tour can go ahead in 2021 and we would look forward to that.”
England coach Eddie Jones says shifting dates to July 2022 would disrupt his preparations for the World Cup in France, but did not dismiss it as an option.
“We would just handle it if it happens and work out a different preparation,” Jones said. “That’s the challenge at this time. I remember someone saying clarity is the new clever. Not too many people are clever at the moment and we don’t have too much clarity.”
He admits players do benefit greatly from the Lions experience.
“It allows our best players to have a wonderful experience of being coached by good coaches and playing with good players, and to play against the best countries from the Southern Hemisphere,” Jones said.
“That’s a massive advantage for the four home countries to have that experience of being able to go on a tour together with the best players in the British Isles, play together, learn from each other and have great experiences. We’re all hopeful it goes ahead.”
Six Nations chief executive Ben Morel said they were taking a wait-and-see approach.
“I’ve got enough challenges to focus on on my side so I’ve not been involved in the Lions conversation, although obviously I’m very well aware of the challenges they are facing,” he said.
“I understand the hard decisions that will need to be made and we will see relatively soon what is ultimately decided.”
South African Rugby has said it will do “whatever it takes” to play the Lions either this year or in 2022 and is open to matches taking place in the UK.
A decision on the tour is expected before the end of February.
Reporting by Nick Said, editing by Ed Osmond
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