Johannesburg to host Springboks-Lions opener in front of potential record crowd

By Peter Hanson 4 December 2019 2
Johannesburg to host Springboks-Lions opener in front of potential record crowd

The British and Irish Lions will play the first of a three-Test series against world champions South Africa in front of potentially a record crowd.

Warren Gatland will lead the Lions for a third time in 2021, with Johannesburg's FNB Stadium to host the first encounter on July 24.

The venue has a capacity of around 88,000 and a sell-out would surpass the highest attendance figures for a Lions fixture, which came when 84,188 watched the series decider against Australia in Sydney in 2001.

Cape Town Stadium is the venue for the second Test a week later before the third and final match takes place in Gauteng at Emirates Airline Park on August 7.

In total, the Lions will play eight matches, with Super Rugby sides the Bulls, the Sharks and the Stormers among the opponents, while Gatland's side are to face an invitational side in Port Elizabeth and South Africa 'A' in Nelspruit.

Gatland, who oversaw a series win over Australia in 2013 and a draw with New Zealand four years later, says the itinerary is perfect preparation for what promises to be a thrilling series with Rugby World Cup winners South Africa.

"I am absolutely thrilled with how this schedule looks," he said.

"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.

"Ensuring the team are absolutely primed for the Test matches is a critical element of any Lions Tour, and I am confident the quality of opposition we will face in the opening weeks will get us ready to take on the Springboks. The Bulls, Sharks and Stormers are all tough sides and present different challenges, which is exactly what we want.

"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.

"We are very much looking forward to touring this wonderful country."

South Africa director of rugby Rassie Erasmus added: "There are players who have been to three Rugby World Cups an finished their careers with a winners' medal 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.

"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.

"Warren Gatland is a massively experienced and astute coach with a phenomenal record with the Lions and the rugby experience for our players and public will rival that of a Rugby World Cup."

 

Schedule in full:

Saturday July 3: Lions v Stormers – Cape Town Stadium, Cape Town
Wednesday July 7: Lions v South Africa Invitational – Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth
Saturday July 10: Lions v Sharks – Jonsson Kings Park, Durban
Wednesday July 14: Lions v South Africa 'A' – Mbombela Stadium, Nelspruit
Saturday July 17: Lions v Bulls – Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
Saturday July 24 (First Test): South Africa v Lions – FNB Stadium, Johannesburg
Saturday July 31 (Second Test):  South Africa v Lions – Cape Town Stadium, Cape Town
Saturday August 7 (Third Test): South Africa v Lions – Emirates Airline Park, Johannesburg

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Peter Hanson

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