How apt that in the week the Wallabies showed their class with a win over Wales the Lions announced the fixtures for their trip Down Under.
Wallaby head coach Robbie Deans and skipper James Horwill attended the launch of the 10-match tour last Monday and spoke about the “once in a career” chance to play “the best of the best of the northern hemisphere sides” in a series that only comes to Australia once every 12 seasons.
The last two tours to Oz have seen the Lions edge one series 2-1 in 1989 and lose the next by the same margin in 2001. No wonder the rugby world can’t wait for the 18 months to pass before the Lions open their tour in the new surroundings of Hong Kong on Saturday, June 1, 2013.
The tour opener will be against the Barbarians with the nine-match Australian leg of the tour kicking off in Perth against Western Force on Wednesday, June 5. That will be the first game against a Super 15 franchise and the Lions will take on all five of Australia’s finest professional sides in a fixture list that is arguably harder than any they have faced in the professional era.
“With the Rugby World Cup completed, a major focus for the rugby world is now the Lions tour to Australia in 2013,” said Lions chairman Gerald Davies.
“Lions tours are hugely popular and outside of Rugby World Cup represent one of the game’s major show pieces with global media coverage and ticket sales testament to their popularity.
“The last two series' between the Wallabies and the Lions have been memorable with both Test series going down to the last match. I’m sure the 2013 series will be just as competitive with the tour reigniting the fierce, but respectful, rivalry that exists between the two sides.”
In two years time it will be the task of another Lions legend, the Scottish great Andy Irvine, to mastermind a tour that will be seeking a first Lions Test series triumph since Martin Johnson’s side in 1997. As a veteran of three Lions tours as a player, including 41 appearances and eight Tests, Irvine is well placed to understand the task ahead.
“There are so many positive things about the Lions and, I suppose, the game needs a lift right now. We tend to be a wee bit gloomy about things and look at the glass being half-empty,” said Irvine.
“I don't think the game is in quite as bad heart as it is made out. We may have one or two obvious issues to deal with, but let's try to park them and get on with things.
“The announcement of the 2013 tour schedule represents another milestone in the rich history of the Lions. Since 1888, when the Lions embarked on their first tour to New Zealand and Australia, the famous red shirt has become an aspirational symbol of achievement for players in Britain and Ireland.
“The Lions receive numerous requests to play matches around the world outside of the traditional tour destinations of Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. For 2013 we had the perfect opportunity to play a match in the developing rugby region of Asia, while at the same time break the long journey from Europe to Australia.
“The last Lions tour to Australia in 2001 heralded the dawn of 'The Red Army' with tens of thousands of English, Irish, Scottish and Welsh tourists and ex-pats wearing the red jersey in support of the Lions. The signs are that support could surpass the estimated 30,000 fans we had following the Lions in South Africa two years ago.”
Lions tour to Australia 2013
Sat, June 1 – Lions v Barbarians (Hong Kong)
Wed, June 5 – Lions v Western Force (Perth)
Sat, June 8 – Lions v Queensland Reds (Brisbane)
Wed, June 12 – Lions v Combined NSW & Queensland Country (Newcastle)
Sat, June 15 – Lions v NSW Waratahs (Sydney)
Tue, June 18 – Lions v ACT Brumbies (Canberra)
Sat, June 22 – Lions v Australia (Brisbane)
Tue, June 25 – Lions v Melbourne Rebels (Melbourne)
Sat, June 29 – Lions v Australia (Melbourne)
Sat, July 6 – Lions v Australia (Sydney)