The British and Irish Lions are set to play in front of the largest-ever crowd for a Lions Test in the professional era on their eight-match tour of South Africa in 2021.
FNB Stadium in Johannesburg will host the first Test on Saturday July 24 and with a capacity of approximately 88,000 fans, a sell-out crowd would surpass the 84,188 who watched the series decider against Australia in 2001.
The second Test follows a week later at the Cape Town Stadium – the first Lions Test there since 1997 – before the tourists return to Johannesburg to face the newly-crowned Rugby World Cup champions in the final Test on Saturday August 7 at Airline Park.
The five-week trip will begin with a match against Stormers on July 3, while they will also face other Super Rugby sides Sharks and Bulls, and two midweek fixtures against an invitational side and South Africa ‘A’.
British & Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland, who has already overseen a winning tour against Australia in 2013 and a drawn series in New Zealand four years later, says he is absolutely thrilled by the schedule.
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, said Gatland, whose Lions beat Australia in 2013 and drew the series with New Zealand in 2017.
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.
The combined capacity for the three Test venues is just below 205,000, which could make the Tests the best-attended since professionalism, potentially surpassing the 192,972 people who attended the three Tests in Australia in 2013.
There are players who have been to three Rugby World Cups and finished their careers with a winner’s medal yet never got to play against the Lions, said World Cup-winning coach Rassie Erasmus, who is now South Africa director of rugby.
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.
2021 British and Irish Lions tour fixtures:
Saturday 3 July – Stormers (Cape Town Stadium, Cape Town)
Wednesday 7 July – South Africa ‘Invitational’ (Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth)
Saturday 10 July – Sharks (Jonsson Kings Park, Durban)
Wednesday 13 July – South Africa ‘A’ team (Mbombela Stadium, Nelspruit)
Saturday 17 July – Bulls (Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria)
Saturday 24 July – South Africa (First Test, FNB Stadium, Johannesburg)
Saturday 31 July – South Africa (Second Test, Cape Town Stadium, Cape Town)
Saturday 7 August – South Africa (Third Test, Emirates Airline Park, Johannesburg)
(c) Sky Sports 2019: British and Irish Lions announce 2021 South Africa tour schedule