Rugby: British & Irish Lions tour of South Africa on verge of cancellation

The British & Irish Lions tour to South Africa is now at serious risk of cancellation, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

With coronavirus numbers accelerating, and the emergence of new strains in South Africa and the UK, contingency planning has been fast-tracked.

The original plan was reportedly to wait until March to make a firm decision on whether to proceed with the highly anticipated Lions campaign to face the world champion Springboks, but talks will now likely reach a critical point by the end of this month.

One option is to postpone the series by a year to the same window in 2022, but Wales are also scheduled to visit South Africa during that period, while England will travel to Australia. 

Ireland is also due to visit New Zealand, so logistically, rescheduling the tour would be be a nightmare. 

The series could be cancelled altogether, but officials want to avoid that at all costs.

The Lions always receive massive support wherever they go and previously insisted the tour would not go ahead without the their 'Red Army' of 30,000 travelling fans.

Even though a vaccine is being rolled out in the UK, the same cannot be said for South Africa, with the country’s citizens still months away from receiving one.

If the Lions tour is cancelled, the fate of head coach Warren Gatland is in question. 

Gatland is the head coach of the Chiefs in Super Rugby, but has taken a year off to coach the Lions, with Clayton McMillan taking over. 

If the tour is cancelled, Gatland will likely resume his role as Chiefs head coach and move McMillian back to assistant coach.