De Villiers: Lions series must be in South Africa

Former Springbok coach Peter de Villiers says he fears that the British & Irish Lions series would be moved to the UK for purely commercial reasons.

The eight-man Lions board have been holding meetings as discussions have intensified around whether or not to continue with the tour of South Africa in July and August, amid concerns that games would have to be played in empty stadiums due to a second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic.

A decision about the tour has yet to be made, but the Lions board has reportedly already started drawing up contingency plans to hold the series in the UK and Ireland. This would potentially have the Lions face the Springboks at Twickenham, Cardiff and Dublin, while South Africa’s provincial teams – like the Sharks and Vodacom Bulls – would play at football stadiums such as St James’ Park in Newcastle and Villa Park in Birmingham.

However, in a social-media post on Monday evening, De Villiers, who coached the Springboks during the last time the British & Irish Lions toured the country in 2009, wrote that he hopes that the decision will instead be made to postpone it until 2022.

‘Over the last few weeks, I have managed to find a small amount of time to reflect on the British & Irish Lions tour to South Africa in 2009 and the ongoing discussion on where and when the 2021 tour should take place.

‘The Lions tour will forever live with me as one of the greatest events I have ever experienced in rugby and it was not purely because of the results.

‘The Lions bring an aura that can’t be matched. Whilst on tour, they travel the country, they hold coaching clinics in communities, schools and townships, they fill stadiums and pump immeasurable amounts of money into a crippling economy that in 2021 or in 2022, we can ill-afford losing out on.

‘I know of a numerous amount of UK charities and tour operators who donate to South African charities and projects that will not be able to do so should this tour not go ahead here in South Africa. The chance to have a social impact in a country that is so desperate for it will be lost.

‘My biggest fear is that if they do move the tour to the UK, they will be doing it to appease sponsors and commercial obligations rather than rugby reasons and that would not sit well with me.’

Postponing the tour until 2022 would, however, require a rescheduling of next year’s Test windows, with a schedule already in place for England to visit Australia while Ireland are set to face New Zealand next year.

Photo: Action Images / Jason O’Brien