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Shorter Lions tours could still be a success, says outgoing RFU chief

The Lions next convene in South Africa in four years’ time.

Shorter Lions tours could still be a success, says outgoing RFU chief

Outgoing Rugby Football Union chief executive Ian Ritchie has defended the reduction in the number of matches on future British and Irish Lions tours.

The Lions’ drawn series in New Zealand generated huge interest in the team but, when the red shirts next convene in South Africa in four years’ time, it is unlikely the 10-match, six-week format will return.

An agreement on the global fixture calendar was reached in March, with an eight-game minimum set aside for the 2021 trip.

Capping it at that number – as well as shaving a week off the tour – has strong advocates in the powerful club game.

John Spencer, the team’s tour manager in New Zealand, has been openly critical of those suggestions, indicating it puts the entire concept at risk, but Lions director Ritchie disagrees.

“I think the Lions was an essential part of the global season, it is and it remains so. We’ve clearly agreed it will remain an essential part until at least 2032 and probably beyond,” he told BBC Radio Five Live’s Sportsweek programme.

“It’s been agreed to, but there will be some tinkering around the edges. We also agreed an eight-match tour certainly does work. I think the future is secure and I think that was the case almost irrespective of what the results were (in New Zealand). I think it (eight matches) can work and that was the discussion we’ve had.”

There is broad agreement on both sides of the debate that Warren Gatland’s side were pressed into action too early on this occasion, playing against a Provincial Barbarians XV just three days after their long-haul flight.

But, while the coaches would rather extend the training time before that curtain-raiser, Ritchie suggests abolishing it entirely along with one other non-Test.

“It’s fairly simple to say the first game – this one was two or three days in – why wouldn’t you take that one out?” he said.

“It’s more time to acclimatise to the country. The next tour is South Africa, which is pretty much the same, so you could easily see how you take one out and it would be helpful losing one more game. I don’t think that would be a great issue.

“We’re very clear on what needs to happen. I think the Lions is in a fantastic place, very much a protected one, and I think we can all start looking forward to 2021 in South Africa.”

On matters closer to home, Ritchie also pondered a job for his successor – replacing his own successful appointee to the role of England boss, Eddie Jones, when the time comes.

The Australian has already won two RBS 6 Nations crowns since becoming the RFU’s first foreign head coach and Ritchie believes it would be desirable, though not necessary, for the next candidate to be homegrown.

“I’d like to hope it is,” he said. “But I’m of the view it doesn’t matter what nationality the coach is as long as it’s the best coach. If the best coach is English that’s an advantage, but I don’t think it is essential.”