Former Lions star says playing at home is better than nothing

Lions vs Boks series must happen, says Jeremy Guscott

There is uncertainty as to whether the British and Irish Lions will be able to tour SA in July because of the pandemic. In a previous tour Test, in 2009, the Lions' Shane Williams is tackled by SA's Heinrich Brussow, at Loftus Versfeld, in Pretoria
There is uncertainty as to whether the British and Irish Lions will be able to tour SA in July because of the pandemic. In a previous tour Test, in 2009, the Lions' Shane Williams is tackled by SA's Heinrich Brussow, at Loftus Versfeld, in Pretoria
Image: GALLO IMAGES/DUIF DU TOIT

There is no harm in breaking with tradition so that the British and Irish Lions series can proceed as planned in July, former Lions star Jeremy Guscott says.

With the tour kickoff getting closer, there are serious doubts as to whether the Lions will be able to visit SA because of Covid-19-related issues.

The Lions board are considering playing the series in SA without fans, moving the event to Australia with a limited capacity or having the series in Britain and Ireland.

The eight-match tour, which includes three Tests and a midweek game in Port Elizabeth against an SA Invitational side, is due to start in early July.

“I think we should be a bit more humble and play a Lions tour in the home unions,” Guscott said.

“ The Lions as we know it is a touring side, but if it can’t tour, I don’t see any harm in playing it and having three Test matches and a couple of warm-up games in Britain and Ireland.

“I’d rather that [playing behind closed doors] than nothing.

“I think it’s very challenging, almost impossible, to push it back 12 months and it’s disappointing. They’re all great countries on the tour but SA is, I think, the best one for fans to go on.

“There’s so much to do there and with the time zone, it’s pretty perfect, so I understand they have to make quite an early decision because of bookings and due to planning.

“ It’s a shame they can’t wait until March and April to see how the vaccinations are going in this country and in SA to give it every chance for us tour and have the home unions ready as a contingency.

“I mean, we’ve become accustomed to it, strange as it is.

“Certainly the viewer is getting the same pictures on television but a lot less of the atmosphere.

“The experience is slightly lessened because there are no crowds, there’s not so much hype surrounding it all.

“The players have been playing under these conditions with their clubs, and they’ve been strict, wherever they might be in Europe, and have become accustomed to it.

“It must have been as strange as anything, it must’ve been the weirdest feeling running out, playing in your Top 14, Premiership, PRO14 and everything else with no crowd.

“I remember the buzz of running out, you’re putting your liniment on, you’re getting ready to go out, you have your big team squeeze, big sprint, big pump up.

“You get the knock of the referee on the door, you’re pumped, you’re cutting through the atmosphere that’s coming through the tunnel and you run out to this cacophony of noise — well, you haven’t got that any more and that must be really strange.

“But let’s say we could get half-full stadiums by July, it’d be epic, absolutely epic and brilliant.”

Lions board chair Jason Leonard has hit back at Lions critics for “getting their knickers in a twist” over where, and if, the tour to SA will happen.

A final call on what will happen could now be made in April and playing the series in the UK would go against the Lions’ touring ethos.

“I think to give everyone as much chance to make it happen, you want to make a decision as late as possible,” Leonard said.

“A lot of people are getting their knickers in a twist about what is happening over all this, but you have to remind them that people are losing their lives over this.”

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