Friday, 20 March 2009

British Lions Tour 2009 Fixtures

In case you haven't heard (where have you been?), the British and Irish Lions rugby team is about to embark on its 2009 tour of South Africa. The eagerly awaited event kicks off the first of its 10 matches in a little over two months from now. Here are the tour fixtures:

British Lions Tour Fixtures

30 MayRoyal XVRoyal Bafokeng Stadium, Rustenburg
3 JuneGolden LionsCoca-Cola Park, Johannesburg
6 JuneCheetahsVodacom Park, Bloemfontein
10 JuneSharksABSA Stadium, Durban
13 JuneWestern ProvinceNewlands, Cape Town
16 JuneCoastal XVNelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth
20 JuneSpringboksABSA Stadium, Durban
23 JuneEmerging SpringboksNewlands, Cape Town
27 JuneSpringboksLoftus Versfeld, Pretoria
4 JulySpringboksCoca-Cola Park, Johannesburg

As usual, it's a mix of matches against some of the top provincial teams and some "development" fixtures, culminating in a three test series against the Springboks (although whether or not they'll still be called the Springboks by then is anyone's guess, but that's a topic for a different day).

No Blue Bulls fixture

There is one provincial team that's notable for its absence from the fixture list: the Blue Bulls of Pretoria, the traditional powerhouse of South African rugby. This seems to be the result of a compromise with FIFA, the South African Football association, as the Lions Rugby tour co-incides with the Confederation Cup, which is seen as an important dress rehearsal for South Africa's hosting of the Football World Cup in 2011. No doubt this has presented many logistical problems to the organisers of both events, but I'm sure I'm not alone in feeling somewhat disappointed that we won't get to see a match-up between the British Lions and the star-studded Blue Bulls outfit on this tour.

Apart from that though, this promises to be a very tough tour for the British and Irish players. They'll be up against four of South Africa's top professional teams in the Golden Lions, Cheetahs, Sharks and Western Province, all of which play in the Super 14, and have Springbok representatives in their ranks.

Playing rugby at altitude

Another challenge teams touring South Africa face is the varying altitude: in this series the first 3 matches are all on the highveld, the next 5 at the coast, then crucially, the last 2 tests are back at altitude. All else being equal, this could give the Springboks the edge in the series.

Past Lions tour results

All things considered, the touring British Lions appear to be up against it on this tour. The Springboks are the reigning world champions, and whilst their 2008 season was a bit up and down, there were some strong performances against good opposition. The Lions, on the other hand, had a disasterous tour of New Zealand in 2005, and some of the players on that tour are likely to be going to South Africa this time too. One wonders how they will respond. Crucially though, the British Lions did win the last series in South Africa in 1997 (the Springboks were the current world champions then too), and another interesting parallel with that tour is that Ian McGeechan is once again the coach.

These are just some of the reasons why I'll be following the tour with great interest. And once the teams run out onto the field, past results count for very little. As in the financial world, past performance is no guarantee of future success!

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