The British and Irish Lions’ tour to South Africa next summer is to go ahead as scheduled, it has been confirmed.
International rugby is facing a fixture headache after much of 2020 has been decimated by the Covid-19 pandemic but the Lions tour will proceed as planned between 3 July and 7 August it is hoped. That overlaps with the rescheduled 2020 Tokyo Olympics, which has a rugby element in the form of sevens which won’t affect the Lions.
In his third tour as head coach Warren Gatland, who is undefeated after series wins in Australia in 2013 and a draw with New Zealand in 2017, the Lions will play the opening match of their eight-fixture tour when they face Stormers at the new Cape Town Stadium on 3 July, with the first of the three Tests against the world-champion Springboks taking place at Johannesburg's FNB Stadium three weeks later.
The second Test is scheduled for 31 July at the Cape Town venue and the third for 7 August, back in Johannesburg at Emirates Airline Park.
Lions managing director Ben Calveley said in a statement: "The Covid-19 pandemic has caused a lot of disruption to the sporting calendar, but after extensive discussions we are now able to confirm that the tour dates are as previously announced.
"An enormous amount of planning, especially from a logistical perspective, goes into putting on a Lions series, so it was crucial that a decision was agreed upon in good time.
"I am particularly pleased that we are able to provide some clarity for all those Lions supporters eager to travel to South Africa next summer."
Gatland added: "Lions tours are always unique, but to take on the world champions in their backyard will be something very special.
"Having toured there in 2009 [as assistant to Ian McGeechan] I know the scale of the task ahead of us - playing in South Africa presents a number of unique challenges such as playing at altitude, while the Boks will always be physical, aggressive and highly motivated.
"History tells you it's a tough place to tour, but I am confident that we can go there and win."
Jurie Roux, chief executive of SA Rugby, added: “We're delighted to confirm the Tour dates remain the same.
"The whole of South Africa is looking forward to welcoming the Lions and we continue progressing our plans to provide travelling supporters with a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
Full 2021 tour schedule:
Saturday 3 July: Lions v Stormers - Cape Town Stadium, Cape Town
Wednesday 7 July: Lions v South Africa 'Invitational' - Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth
Saturday 10 July: Lions v Sharks - Jonsson Kings Park, Durban
Wednesday 14 July: Lions v South Africa 'A' Team - Mbombela Stadium, Nelspruit
Saturday 17 July: Lions v Bulls - Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
Saturday 24 July (first Test): Springboks v Lions - FNB Stadium, Johannesburg
Saturday 31 July (second Test): Springboks v Lions - Cape Town Stadium, Cape Town
Saturday 7 August (third Test): Springboks v Lions - Emirates Airline Park, Johannesburg