Shortening season for Lions tour would be 'suicidal' for Premiership

Lions and New Zealand players pose for a joint photo

Shortening the English club season to allow the British and Irish Lions extra preparation time in 2021 would be “suicidal” for Premiership Rugby, says its chief executive Mark McCafferty.

The Lions’ South Africa tour is set to feature eight games over five weeks.

It is unclear yet how it will fit into the calendar and McCafferty says Lions’ management have shown “disdain”.

“No-one from the Lions has ever contacted me to say: ‘shall we start talking about the 2021 tour’,” he said.

“A bit like World Rugby sometimes, the Lions seem to have a disdain about talking to the club organisations.

“I think a lot could be improved if people actually sat down, demonstrated a basic respect for the club game and said: ‘How can we work together on this?'”

The 2017 Lions tour of New Zealand was dogged by issues over the messy schedule, with the tourists playing 10 games in six weeks, including an opening fixture a matter of days after arrival in Auckland.

Following the impressive drawn series against the All Blacks, head coach Warren Gatland and tour manager John Spencer pleaded for a longer preparation period, with Spencer promising urgent talks to resolve the issue.

However, McCafferty says no contact has been made, adding that changing the format of the Premiership season – for example scrapping the play-offs in a Lions year – in order to free up an extra week or two, is not an option.

“To go in and out of different formats is suicidal,” he said.

“For a product as strong as the Premiership to mess around, it would massively damage the brand.

“I think the issue is about the structure of the rest of the season and the structure of the Lions programme.”

McCafferty has suggested a condensed Six Nations in 2021, rather than the club game being compromised. The Premiership clubs provided 20 players between them for last summer’s tour.

“The unions are the Lions shareholders,” he said. “Maybe they could say: we’ll play one less Test that year in order to create that week. Or we’ll go back to the thought of playing the Six Nations over six weeks rather than seven.

“There are a number of things that could be talked about rather than this expectation that the price of delivering that must always be borne by the clubs.”

And McCafferty has urged greater collaboration between the unions, the Lions and the clubs in order to solve such issues in the rugby calendar.

“My experience is that if you get people around the table, talking sensibly, you’ll normally find some outcomes,” he added.

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BBC Sport – Rugby Union

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