Premiership bosses slam B&I Lions schedule

Sun, 28 Aug 2016 14:11
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REACTION: Senior figures within English rugby union have hit out at the "ludicrous" fixture schedule for next year's British and Irish Lions tour of New Zealand.

The Lions, a combined side comprised of the best players from England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales, traditionally go on tour every four years to one of the Southern Hemisphere giants of New Zealand, South Africa and Australia. 

Next year sees the Lions travel to New Zealand - where they have won just one Test series and that 45 years ago - with three internationals against the world champion All Blacks forming the centrepiece of a 10-match tour.

However, their first match takes place at the start of June just a week after the English Premiership and Pro12 finals.

In an age of ever-more gruelling seasons, there are widespread concerns that the Lions will have insufficient time to prepare and are being set up to fail, especially as the scratch team will face what is generally regarded as one of the best sides in New Zealand's outstanding rugby history. 

And with players in England contracted to their clubs, rather than the national unions, there are fears among Premiership chiefs that their star names will be in no fit state for the start of the 2017/18 season that follows the Lions tour.

"It is ludicrous they are playing 10 games," Mark McCall, the Director of Rugby at Premiership and European champions Saracens told BBC Radio on Sunday. 

"It's going to be tough, and something that needs to be looked at," added McCall, several of whose players are set to be selected for the Lions.

The demands of the professional era of Rugby Union have seen the future of the Lions, who in 2013 ended a 16-year wait for a series win with a 2-1 success in Australia, repeatedly called into question.

Next year, because of the fixture list, the Lions will have limited preparation time and will have to travel to New Zealand in two separate groups, with those taking part in domestic finals travelling to New Zealand in the week of the tour opener.

As far as leading British rugby writer Stephen Jones, the long-serving correspondent of the Sunday Times, is concerned, top players will have to head to New Zealand "battered, knackered, beaten up, carrying injury, begging to be injured again".

He added: "Shamefully, neither league [Premiership and Celtic] will budge; the Lions committee, shamefully, will not insist." 

Meanwhile Dai Young, the boss of Premiership side Wasps and a former Lions prop, told the BBC: "I'm a big supporter of the Lions, it's a fantastic thing which I was lucky enough to experience, and it's something that should be kept on. 

"But do they have to have 10 games? Could they start a week later? I know what it meant to me as a player, and I'm sure they can give New Zealand a run for their money," he added. 

"But if our players are lucky enough to go, what are we going to pick up at the end? Players are going to need a lot of patching up." 

The third and final Test against the All Blacks is on July 8, when many Premiership clubs will be starting pre-season training ahead of the 2017/18 European season.

"It is going to be very difficult next year," Premiership Chief Executive Mark McCafferty said in an interview with the Observer newspaper on Sunday. 

"The Lions is in the mix as we move towards the season structure post-2019. 

"It is a fabulous brand and an important part of the economics for the Southern Hemisphere. 

"It should carry on but it is not sustainable that players can go through a club and international season, be involved in that scale of tour and then be in shape for the following season."

Match schedule for the 2017 British and Irish Lions tour of New Zealand:

June 03: v Provincial Union team (Whangarei)

June 07: v Blues (Eden Park, Auckland)

June 10: v Crusaders (Christchurch)

June 13: v Highlanders (Dunedin)

June 17: v Maori (Rotorua)

June 20: v Chiefs (Hamilton)

June 24: v NEW ZEALAND, 1ST TEST (Eden Park, Auckland)

June 27: v Hurricanes (Wellington)

July 01: v NEW ZEALAND, 2ND TEST (Wellington)

July 08: v NEW ZEALAND, 3RD TEST (Eden Park, Auckland)

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