The itinerary for the 2009 tour of South Africa by the British and Irish Lions has been announced. It sees 10 matches in a 5 week period, mirroring the last tour to New Zealand. Hopefully it will prove rather more successful than that one.
This will be a crucial tour for the Lions as they seek to confirm that they have as illustrious a future as they have had a past. The first two tours of the professional era produced terrific rugby, even if 2001 was somewhat turbulent. However, as the effects of professional rugby took hold, 2005 was an unmitigated disaster, begging the question of whether a scratch team can really be expected to compete with the best in the professional era. The opposition may have been an excellent New Zealand team (unusually peaking right between 2 World Cups), but the Lions didn’t even compete.
Ian McGeechan is the favourite to be Head Coach and if anyone knows how to win on a Lions tour it is him. The 1989 victory in Australia was fantastic, the 1997 win in South Africa even better. ESPN Classics showed the 1997 ‘Living with the Lions’ programme again a couple of months ago and, despite having watched it live at the time, I could not believe the quality of the rugby the Lions played. It was high tempo and precise with players offloading left, right and centre. And the banter was top drawer. If McGeechan takes the role, he is likely to select the Wales dream team of Gatland and Edwards as his assistants and they have shown recently that they can turn a team around pretty quickly.
Lions’ tours are absolutely awesome. Get the dates in your calendar and bring it on.
The British Lions’ itinerary:
May 30, Highveld XV (Rustenburg)
June 3, Golden Lions (Johannesburg)
June 6, Cheetahs (Bloemfontein);
June 10, Sharks (Durban)
June 13, Western Province (Cape Town)
June 16/17 tbc, Coastal XV tbc (Port Elizabeth tbc)
June 20, South Africa (Durban)
June 23, Emerging Springboks (Cape Town)
June 27, South Africa (Pretoria)
July 4, South Africa (Johannesburg)