Just the place names – Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, Pretoria, Loftus Versfeld and Johannesburg – are evocative in their own unique way. The history, the mystique, that surrounds past Lions Tours to South Africa, is so enticing.
I was fortunate enough to go on three British & Irish Lions Tours, visiting South Africa as part of the 1997 squad, and coming back in my current capacity as chairman has been fantastic.
It’s brought back so many memories for me. The people I’ve met, the places I’ve been and the experiences I’ve had through my Lions Tours are so precious. To give one example, the captain of my first Tour was Gavin Hastings. Gavin and I remain the best of friends to this day. I have made so many other friendships like that, through the Lions and the unique opportunity to form friendships that the shared experience of touring together gives us.
Those bonds between players, especially with players from different nations, are very special to all of us.
That is not something that happens by accident. I often remember Sir Ian McGeechan watching us walk into a room on one occasion. As players we had all naturally gathered in groups – England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Ian sent us all back out of the room and had us walk back in again.
We did so as Lions.
Looking forward, I can’t wait for the 2021 Tour.
The passion that both Lions and South African fans have for rugby, the fact that we will visit the home of the reigning Rugby World Cup champions and the unique and beautiful destination that is South Africa make it a prospect to savour.
Unveiling the Tour Schedule brings the build-up to another level.
Click here for the full SA 2021 fixture list!
Because he has come on board at an earlier stage, Warren Gatland’s experience and involvement has been key to creating the schedule
Like all of us, Warren has been keen to ensure that this Tour will give every player and coach the chance to perform at their very best. As in New Zealand, we also want to ensure that the Tour party can truly engage with the local community and culture. Hours on airplanes or buses have been minimised so that as much time as possible will be spent either experiencing the country and all it has to offer or working on the training pitch.
For fans, we also wanted to give you the chance to see as much of South Africa as possible.
The 2021 Tour will bring us all the way from Cape Town, to Port Elizabeth, to Durban and then on to Mbombela, Pretoria and the High Veldt for the first Test in Johannesburg. That first Test promises to be an incredible occasion at an amazing stadium with a capacity of 88,000 packed with fans from both sides, the 23 Lions ready to face the newly crowned world champions on their own turf.
The 2021 Tour route has been created to provide unforgettable experiences for players and travelling supporters alike. #LionsSA2021 pic.twitter.com/IpkLeSnZFb
— British & Irish Lions (@lionsofficial) December 4, 2019
We’ll then return to Cape Town, giving fans who come in for the Test series a chance to visit that part of the country, before returning to the high veldt for a potentially spectacular finale back in Johannesburg.
It is a great schedule and sets us up for a great Tour.
When you go to South Africa it is a place that is so passionate about rugby. Straight after the Rugby World Cup final they were already talking about the Lions.
Starting from now, the Lions will also start to be part of rugby conversations all over Britain and Ireland right up until that 2021 squad is announced.
And I must say I’m particularly looking forward to welcoming a new batch of Lions into the family in 2021. Some younger England players have already been asking me about the Tour and there remains a huge desire among current players. They get how unique an opportunity going on a Lions Tour is.
The same holds true for fans and I look forward to sharing the journey with as many of you as possible, and making this another Lions Tour to remember.
Guarantee the best range of ticket-inclusive travel packages to South Africa, by buying a Priority Access Pass at www.lionsrugby.com/tours