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Safety paramount for fans
15 June 2008 15:40pm
Lions manager Gerald Davies is confident South African authorities will be able to ensure supporter safety during next year's tour.
On Tuesday 50,000 people marched through the streets of Pretoria in protest at the crime rate, a topic that is impossible to ignore in a nation that is experiencing financial difficulties.
But Davies, who alongside Lions head coach Ian McGeechan has spent the past 12 days on a fact-finding mission in South Africa, today allayed any fears.
"The safety of supporters is something that is being looked at internally in South Africa," said the Welsh legend.
"In a year's time it's not just the Lions that are coming here, the Confederations Cup is being staged in South Africa too.
"There will be a huge influx of people into the country next year and we're sure that the people in charge will make sure everything is all right.
"We're confident that South Africa will be able to cope with this, if they weren't capable they wouldn't have invited us here."
Davies added: "Security of the team is something that we have at the back of our minds but at this stage it's not something we're concerned about.
"In any big sporting occasion you need to have security anyway.
"We'll have our own security and each hotel that we go to will have security, so we'll be well covered."
Another issue facing the Lions is a clash of fixtures that sees the Guinness Premiership final take place on the same day as the opening match of the tour against a Highveld XV on May 30.
But McGeechan remains convinced the Rugby Football Union will find a satisfactory solution.
"The RFU admit they asked for the change initially on our touring dates," he said.
"There has been some indication that they have the answers to the problem and there are some things they can do to sort it out."
The Lions face 10 fixtures, including three Tests at altitude, in the only full blown rugby to have survived the move to professionalism.
McGeechan insists keeping the players at their peak throughout the extended trip is the greatest challenge facing the coaching team.
"A 10-game tour over seven weeks is quite unique and that's why the Lions is such a different proposition to anything," he said.
"There are no tours like this any more. This is the one tour that goes to South Africa, New Zealand or Australia and plays this many matches.
"It doesn't happen in any other tour. Keeping a touring party fresh over seven weeks when the players are not used to it will be difficult.
"That's the biggest challenge facing us - more than playing at altitude. The closest the players come to that these days is the World Cup.
"We need to make sure the players have the best opportunity to perform at their peak in all environments."
McGeechan hopes to have his coaching team and all logistical planning completed before the end of the year.
"We want the majority of things in place by next autumn. We'll come out again in January to make sure everything is in place," he said.
"The coaching set-up will be in place by autumn. We need to identify the roles and who we want to fill those roles."
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