British and Irish Lions 2021: Gregor Townsend urges tour solution

By Chris JonesBBC rugby union correspondent
Gregor Townsend
Gregor Townsend was fly-half for the Lions' two Test victories in the series win over the Springboks in 1997

The value of the British and Irish Lions should not be underestimated, says Scotland boss Gregor Townsend.

The Lions are due to tour South Africa this summer, but uncertainty surrounds the trip because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Playing without fans, hosting matches in the UK and Ireland, or delaying until 2022 are all possible options.

But Townsend, a winning tourist as a player in 1997, says "a solution must be found" to protect the Lions.

"It is a hugely positive aspect of our sport," said the former Scotland fly-half.

"As long as it goes ahead - whether it is this year or next year - I think it is really important we keep hold of that.

"Our players really look forward to it, and are hugely motivated to get on that Lions tour, and I am very confident the same is the case in Wales, England and Ireland.

"You can't underestimate the value the Lions have to our sport and what it means to our players and our supporters.

"So I just cross my fingers a solution is found and we can all get behind that team, whether it is this year or next year."

'This year would be better in the long run'

Alun Wyn Jones running at Joe Moody
Alun Wyn Jones started all three Tests against the All Blacks in 2017

The captains of the four home unions - Owen Farrell, Johnny Sexton, Alun Wyn Jones and Stuart Hogg - have also taken part in initial talks with Lions bosses, with Hogg adding they were all in agreement that the tour "has to take place in some way".

"Whether it is here or South Africa, as long as the tour takes place in some form we will all be very happy," Hogg, twice a Lions tourist, said.

Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones, himself a veteran of three Lions tours, added: "Having been involved in a few, for those selected, it's a very special thing."

However, Jones says his preference would be for the tour to go ahead in 2021 if possible, rather than being pushed back a year, which could then impact on preparations for the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

"Ideally, for me, if everyone is safe and well, if it can go ahead this year I think that would be better in the long run," he said.

"The only disappointment for whoever is selected is not to have fans, because to not have fans on the Lions tour would be very different.

"We have been sound-boarded and involved in a mini thinktank if you like, and those were the things I said in that meeting."

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