Lions chief hopes fans can tour South Africa

London (AFP) –


The British and Irish Lions hope fans will be able to cheer them on in South Africa next year for a tour where interest is "off the scale" according to managing director Ben Calveley.

The Lions announced Wednesday they will play Japan at Murrayfield on June 26 as a curtain-raiser to their series against the world champion Springboks.

That date is the same day as next season's English Premiership final, a week before the Lions' tour opener in Cape Town.

The Japan match will be subject to any Covid-19 restrictions in force at the time but Calveley, remains "optimistic" fans will be able to watch he game at Murrayfield.

"What is clear is that the interest in the Lions is off the scale, it is considerably higher than we have seen for previous tours," Calveley told a conference call.

"Our approach is to focus on 'Plan A', which is working in partnership with the South African Rugby Union to make sure we are ready to deal with whatever Covid environment we find ourselves in next summer.

"There are lots of reasons to be optimistic. We have seen that sport has returned at the elite level around the world."

He added: "South Africa's borders opened on October 1 and there are lots of sporting events happening, particularly in South Africa, between now and the (Lions) tour, so there are lots of opportunities for us to learn."

The Lions' eight-match South Africa trip begins on July 3, with three Tests scheduled against the Springboks.

Fixtures could yet be played behind closed doors but Calveley said: "We all know that Lions tours need to have fans in there, without that famous sea of red, Lions tours are just not the same."

The Japan game falls outside of World Rugby's regulation nine international window for Tests and that means Premiership Rugby are not obligated to release players to coach Warren Gatland's squad for the fixture.

Calveley, though, is confident the Lions' first Test in Scotland will be a memorable occasion all the same.

"My view is there is lots of examples even within rugby of multiple Test matches happening on the same day -- the Six Nations does it on the culmination of the Championship," he said.

"I am really sure there is more than enough enthusiasm. There are more than enough rugby fans out there to accommodate multiple fixtures and we are really looking forward to the Japan fixture up in Edinburgh."