If there was one thing which the 2017 British and Irish Lions tour to New Zealand proved, it was that the squad needed an extended period of time to gel, integrate and generate performances.
This was evident from the lacklustre showings against the Provincial Barbarians and the Auckland Blues at the beginning of the tour to the strong performances against the Crusaders and the Maori All Blacks, in addition to the three Tests against the All Blacks as the tour progressed.
It’s simple to understand, really. If you are bringing together a squad of 40+ players to take on some of the best sides in world rugby, you need time and games to get the players up to a required standard. However, with the new global world rugby calendar for 2021 onwards agreed upon in March, the new format will reduce the traditional 10-match, six-week format.
The Lions will travel to South Africa in 2021 in a format which is likely to consist of 8 matches and a five-week tour. Tour manager of the Lions, John Spencer, has already criticised the new changes – saying that it will be detrimental for the Lions as a concept if the tour is shortened.
Nevertheless, outgoing RFU boss, Ian Ritchie, who was one of the negotiators for the new rugby calendar, has defended the changes.
“I think the Lions was an essential part of the global season, it is and it remains so. We’ve clearly agreed it will remain an essential part until at least 2032 and probably beyond,” Ritchie told BBC Radio Five Live’s Sportsweek programme.
Richie believes an eight-match format can work and cites how the Lions should not have played against the Barbarians to support his reasoning.
“It’s fairly simple to say the first game – this one was two or three days in – why wouldn’t you take that one out?” he said.
“It’s more time to acclimatise to the country. The next tour is South Africa, which is pretty much the same, so you could easily see how you take one out and it would be helpful losing one more game.
“I don’t think that would be a great issue.”
Everyone involved with this year’s tour of the Lions has come out against the changes so you would think the current format is what is best. Nevertheless, change seems to be on the way and one hopes that it won’t diminish the Lions concept – considering the 2017 edition looks set to be on of the most successful tour in recent memory.