Since 1888 there has been a special rugby union team that is known the world over, and in July 2021, they’ll be making a long-awaited return to South Africa again. The team we’re talking about is the British & Irish Lions, of course, which has developed a rich history and tradition for assembling marvellous groups of Home Nations players, then pitting them against the cream of the Southern Hemisphere international sides.
It promises to be a tasty affair, pitting the Lions against the reigning world champions! With the Boks withdrawing from the 2020 Rugby Championship, it also means that the Lions could be their first major test match following their 2019 RWC triumph in Japan.
2021 will also be the third tour with Warren Gatland coaching the British & Irish Lions. The 53-year-old is widely considered to be one of the best coaches in rugby union, having managed a host of teams in both hemispheres over the years. Gatland agreed to his third stint with the Lions in May 2019, according to The Guardian, with the decision later officially confirmed in June of that year.
Gatland led the Lions to a 2-1 series victory in 2013 during the tour of Australia, which was then followed by the visit to New Zealand in 2017. Against his compatriots, the Lions were comfortably beaten 30-15 in the first test, but they bounced back to a 21-24 victory in the second test. The third and final test produced a 15-15 draw between the All Blacks and the Lions, resulting in the tour series being tied overall- a very creditable achievement for the visitors.
Ahead of the next team selections being made or announced, British & Irish Lions are the favourites in the rugby union betting with outright odds of 4/6 to win the prestigious 2021 Tour, which reflects the strength and depth of talent available for Warren to select. Meanwhile, the South Africans are tipped at 6/5 odds to win the three-match series, with 25/1 odds for the unlikely but always possible event there’s a draw.
Following the inaugural Lions tour of New Zealand and Australia in 1888, the very first tour to feature test matches against the host international side was the visit to South Africa in 1891, with the visiting British & Irish selection sweeping to a 3-0 series victory. However, history shows that the Springboks have emerged victorious on more occasions than the Lions.
In total the Lions have toured South Africa on 13 occasions, winning only 4 times, while the Springboks have been series victors on 8 occasions, with just the one tour in 1955 ending tied. Back when iconic former England player and coach Martin Johnson was part of the side, the Lions claimed their most recent tour victory in South Africa, earning a hard-fought 2-1 series triumph. However, the last visit saw the Springboks emerge as 2-1 series winners in 2009, with Bulls flyhalf Morne Steyn kicking them to victory on the Highveldt.
The Lions are scheduled to play five warm-up games to start their tour. On 3rd July they will play Stormers at Cape Town Stadium, then on 7th July, a South Africa Invitational selection at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth. Sharks will face the visitors at Kings Park Stadium in Durban, then South Africa ‘A’ at Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit on 14th July, followed by a game against the Bulls on 17th July at Loftus Versfeld Stadium, Pretoria.
When the tour proper starts on 24th July, the Lions will take on South Africa in the first test at the FNB Stadium in Johannesburg. The second test sees the visitors return to the Cape Town Stadium on 31st July, with the third and final test against the Springboks on 7th August at Ellis Park Stadium