THE British and Irish Lions' next tour of Australia in 2025 is likely to be reduced from 10 matches to eight in a move reportedly made - in part - because Australian rugby doesn't have enough sstrong teams.
Lions management has been in talks this week with representatives of Australia, South Africa and New Zealand about the scheduling of their next three tours, with particular focus on the length.
Under pressure from the English Premiership to reduce the length of the tours to reduce workload on players, Lions management is set to cut two matches from the 2021 tour to South Africa and the 2025 tour of Australia.
The 2029 series in New Zealand will remain 10 games, however, and nothing is set in stone for the other two, either. They could still be bumped back up to 10 games but it would seem unlikely.
Player burnout and scheduling demands are hot topics in the UK, particularly when Lions tours start in the southern hemisphere only a matter of days after the Premiership final.
But the Guardian reported the quality of opposition was also a major consideration for the Lions' bosses and on current evidence, outside the Tests, neither South Africa or Australia could field seven teams that could provide "meaningful" games for the best of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
"Each tour will be looked at on its merits," an unnamed administrator told the Guardian.
"We will be keeping an open mind. A shorter tour means longer preparation time and clearly had the Lions been in South Africa this year, it is unlikely that there would have been the 10 meaningful fixtures that there were in New Zealand where the strength of the warm-up teams meant the Lions went into the Test series battle-hardened."
The last Lions tour to Australia in 2013 saw the tourists play the Barbarians in Hong Kong before nine games in Australia: the Test series, five Super Rugby franchises and Combined Country.
Having cut the Force, the ARU only has four Super Rugby teams now, meaning an eight-game tour would not drastically change things as they stand at the moment. If the Force remains vibrant in a new competition, or Australia exits SANZAAR, the Combined Country fixture would likely be removed without much opposition.