CHRIS FOY: Don’t mess with the Lions magic… the only answer amid cancellation fears is to delay the South Africa tour for a year
- The British and Irish Lions are due for a tour of South Africa this summer
- The tour is in danger of disruption should the coronavirus pandemic rumble on
- It’s vital the Lions format is not tainted and they return in all their glory in 2022
So it looks like the Lions are going to need a Plan B, but what should it be? The only answer is to postpone the tour by a year. Cancellation is unthinkable — as is relocation.
Since Sportsmail revealed that the British and Irish crusade to South Africa this summer is in grave danger of Covid disruption, various contingencies have been hurriedly outlined.
While there is a growing acceptance that the event cannot proceed in its intended slot, there are wildly different takes on the best alternative.
The British and Irish Lions’ tour of South Africa this year is under threat of being disrupted
Many solutions are being discussed but they could interfere with the magic of the Lions
Let’s dismiss the cancellation scenario. The Lions are too precious to be mothballed. Where there’s a will, there is a way out of this mess and there is considerable will — in these parts, in South Africa and beyond.
Let’s also rule out keeping the Lions at home. It would be a horrible precedent and could spell the death of the entire glorious concept.
If the Lions were to face the Springboks and provincial sides from their country over here, what is to say that a measure proposed as an emergency solution wouldn’t be regarded as a template?
Of course there are exceptional circumstances but this is an exceptional sporting product. If it was only about maximising revenue, the Lions would never play away from home, as the market here is a money-making phenomenon.
The Lions playing at home should be ruled-out as an unthinkable solution amid the pandemic
It is about moulding four nations into a potent force, on a near-impossible timescale, in hostile territory, reinforced by the presence of their fabled Red Army. It is meant to be unique and memorable.
One solution makes a lot of sense. Shift the Six Nations to this summer and stage the Lions tour in South Africa 12 months later.
The first part of that is highly unlikely to be adopted, despite offering the prospect of match-day revenue from fans in their thousands armed with a Covid vaccination. Scheduling complications for the broadcasters are almost certain to rule it out.
Another option could be to explore whether northern tours this summer and next could be swapped, so that — for example — England visit Australia this July and then go to Canada and the USA when the Lions are on their rescheduled 2022 tour.
It would take some doing, but could be within the scope of officials striving to reignite the sport. The powers-that-be must be willing to think outside the box but must not sacrifice tradition as a quick fix.
BILLY IS SILLY… BUT WATERBOYS ARE TOO
Water carriers have become a menace and their movements must be restricted.
In the Sale-Wasps match on December 27, one of the visitors’ water carriers came on to the pitch as play was going on and blocked Akker van der Merwe, the Sale hooker, from attempting a tackle.
Then a Sale water carrier grabbed the ball when it was kicked into touch at Kingsholm on Saturday and all hell broke loose after Billy Twelvetrees shoved him over.
While Twelvetrees over-reacted and deserved his yellow card, referee Karl Dickson was right to admonish the water carrier. They must be stopped from interfering and only allowed to enter the field when cleared to do so by the referee.
All the encroaching is often more to do with passing on coaching messages than hydrating players. Dickson also deserves credit for penalising a goading head-pat by Sale, another growing blight on the game, but the officials inexplicably didn’t review Daniel Du Preez’s ugly head-shot on Chris Harris.
Josh Beaumont has endured a gruelling ordeal recovering from a severe knee injury, so it was satisfying to see him mark his first Sale appearance for 14 months with the winning try against Gloucester.
The 28-year-old has lost ground since emerging as an England contender, but he offers the Sharks considerable power, athleticism and versatility.
His intervention at Kingsholm bought breathing space for Paul Deacon, the interim head coach auditioning to be appointed the long-term successor to Steve Diamond.
The Last Word
Sadly, ring-fencing has become a necessary evil, in the short term.
The on-going Covid crisis has led to the cancellation of Premiership games, with points awarded by default. Curiously, the regulations have been amended so clubs who are unable to fulfil the fixture are awarded two points.
The system may be open to abuse and threatens to have a major say in deciding which team ends up bottom of the table.
In those circumstances, relegation would be unfair. So as a temporary measure, keep all 12 in the top division and bring up the two Championship finalists, which will open the door to Saracens and Ealing.
Then shut the door for two or more years to allow for a period of stability before a guaranteed re-opening.
MY TEAM OF THE WEEK
15 C Piutau (Bristol), 14 L Rees-Zammit (Gloucester), 13 S Radradra (Bristol), 12 C Redpath (Bath), 11 J Bassett (Wasps), 10 G Ford (Leicester), 9 B Spencer (Bath), 1 E Genge (Leicester), 2 G Kloska (Bristol), 3 K Brookes (Wasps), 4 J Launchbury (Wasps), 5 C Wiese (Sale), 6 S Luatua (Bristol), 8 J Wiese (Leicester), 7 T Curry (Sale)
Lloyd Evans’ delayed delivery behind the back of an on-rushing defender released Chris Harris to set up a Gloucester try. It was vision and execution reminiscent of Danny Cipriani.
Charles Piutau produced an audacious, one-handed pick-up and try for Bristol. On BT Sport, David Flatman said: ‘If David Campese had done that we’d have watched it for years on VHS.’
Nigel Owens discovered that he had forgotten his cards after deciding to sin-bin Dragons lock Matthew Screech during the Welsh Pro 14 derby against the Scarlets in Llanelli.
Richard Capstick was outstanding for Exeter in a losing cause and the flanker did a fine impression of an outside back with a hitch-kick past Lima Sopoaga and surge to the corner.
George Kloska was a shy man-of-the-match recipient but the rookie homegrown hooker was superb for Bristol and epitomises the long-term aspect of Pat Lam’s Bears project.
Referee Ian Tempest kept telling the scrum-halves in the Wasps v Exeter game ‘start to use it’ at the base of rucks. It was too loose and vague. Hurry it along.
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