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British and Irish Lions confirm 2021 tour dates

The itinerary was jointly announced on Wednesday with FNB Stadium in Johannesburg hosting the first Test on Saturday 24 July.

New Zealand's Warren Gatland, the head coach of the British and Irish Lions. Picture: AFP

JOHANNESBURG - The British & Irish Lions could make history on an eight-game tour of South Africa in 2021, with Warren Gatland’s side set to play in front of the largest-ever crowd for a Lions Test since the game turned professional.

The itinerary was jointly announced on Wednesday with FNB Stadium in Johannesburg hosting the first Test on Saturday 24 July. With a capacity of approximately 88,000 spectators, a sell-out crowd would be higher than the 84,188 who witnessed the series decider against the Wallabies in Sydney in 2001.

The second Test follows a week later at the Cape Town Stadium – the first Lions Test in the Mother City since 1997 – before the tour returns to Gauteng for the final Test on Saturday 7 August at Emirates Airline Park.

The combined capacity for the three-Test venues is just below 205,000, which could make the three Tests on the 2021 tour the best-attended since professionalism, potentially surpassing the 192,972 people who attended the three Tests in Australia in 2013.

Rassie Erasmus, SA director of rugby, said the tour was a once-in-a-lifetime playing opportunity for South African players.

“There are players who have been to three Rugby World Cups and finished their careers with a winner’s medal and yet never got to play against the Lions. They only come around every 12 years for our players and only a few of them ever have the privilege of wearing the Springbok jersey in a Lions series”, he said.

Erasmus is also expecting a tough challenge.

“The Lions have not lost a series since they were last here a decade ago and they will present a next-level challenge in 18 months time. The Lions performed extremely well on their previous two tours (through Australia and New Zealand) and will no doubt relish the opportunity to add the Springboks’ scalp to their belt,” he said.

British & Irish Lions head coach Gatland is delighted with an itinerary; he believes it will allow his side to be perfectly prepared for the three-Test matches, which complete the Tour.

“Touring South Africa is always a huge challenge, not only from a rugby perspective but also in terms of the venues and the conditions facing the players. We are very comfortable that three of the games, two of which are Test matches, will be played at altitude. Our schedule falls in a way to allow us to start at sea level before building up and acclimatising to the unique environment that playing at altitude presents. Moreover, the venues we have agreed – some of which will be new to the Lions – open up the matches to a vast audience and will undoubtedly provide an unforgettable experience for the players and travelling supporters alike,” he said.

The British & Irish Lions have toured South Africa on 13 previous occasions, with the first Tour taking place in 1891. In that time, the Lions have won four-Test series, lost eight and drew one. Their overall record against the Springboks is played 46, won 17, lost 23 and drawn six.

Full 2021 tour schedule:

• Saturday 3 July: British & Irish Lions v DHL Stormers – Cape Town Stadium, Cape Town

• Wednesday 7 July: British & Irish Lions v SA ‘Invitational’ – Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth

• Saturday 10 July: British & Irish Lions v Cell C Sharks – Jonsson Kings Park, Durban

• Wednesday 14 July: British & Irish Lions v South Africa ‘A’ – Mbombela Stadium, Nelspruit

• Saturday 17 July: British & Irish Lions v Vodacom Bulls – Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria

• Saturday 24 July (first Test): Springboks v British & Irish Lions – FNB Stadium, Johannesburg

• Saturday 31 July (second Test): Springboks v British & Irish Lions – Cape Town Stadium, Cape Town

• Saturday 7 August (third Test): Springboks v British & Irish Lions – Emirates Airline Park, Johannesburg

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