Speculation has been little short of rampant in recent weeks over the fate of the British and Irish Lions tour to South Africa later this year, but there were no mixed messages from director of rugby Rassie Erasmus on Monday when he said the Springboks “will do anything” to ensure they play the famous tourists.
There have been intense discussions in the last week over whether the Lions can tour South Africa in July/August, will Covid force the games to be played in empty stadiums or should the series be held in the UK and Ireland? Postponing the tour to 2022 is also an option.
“We are desperate to play the British and Irish Lions and will do anything to make that happen. It only happens once every 12 years for us, so we don’t want to miss out,” Erasmus told a media briefing on Monday.
“If Option A of having the series in South Africa doesn’t work out then we will go to the next option and the next one after that, we will go all the way to Option Z. We will play next year if needs be, we will play over there if we have to.
“That’s speaking from the coach’s side and obviously there are commercial factors involved too. But apart from commercial reasons, we feel we deserve to play them. Some guys have extended their careers to play the Lions, others have stayed in South Africa to make the Springbok side for that series. We don’t care how we play them and we’ll go to Option Z if necessary.”
The entrance of South Africa’s four leading franchises – the Bulls, Stormers, Sharks and Lions – into European competition in the form of the Rainbow Cup against the Pro14 teams of Ireland, Wales, Scotland and Italy in April, will play a key role in preparing the Springboks for the British and Irish Lions tour, and Erasmus confirmed on Monday that the local teams will use a “Franchise Cup” mini-tournament to prepare for the Rainbow Cup.
“Our players will have a three-week off-season after the Currie Cup final, and then the Rainbow Cup will be an interim competition until the proper Pro16 for the 2021/22 season is played from September/October. The Rainbow Cup will be a shortened version of that and the guys need to get ready for the Pro16 and the Lions tour,” Erasmus said.
“The ‘Franchise Cup’ is just what I called it but the franchises have to play against each other to be competitive in the Rainbow Cup, where there will be different referees and conditions. So it will be refereed like they will blow in Pro16, plus myself and Jacques Nienaber (Springbok coach) will share a lot of our experiences of coaching in Europe.”