Queensland Sports Minister, Phil Reeves (R), Drew Mitchell former Wallaby Brett Robinson

New South Wales will host three matches – including a game against the HSBC Waratahs and the third and final Test – when the British and Irish Lions make their long-awaited return to Australia with a tour in 2013, the Australian Rugby Union confirmed today.

The Lions will play a Combined Country team at the Ausgrid Stadium in Newcastle on Wednesday, 12 June.  Country will be the only non-Super Rugby team afforded the opportunity of playing the Lions in their six additional matches outside the three-Test series.

Three days after taking on Country, the Lions will play the HSBC Waratahs at the Sydney Football Stadium. The June 15 showdown will be the first time the two sides have met since June 2001, when the Waratahs recorded a 41-24 victory. The Lions will return to Sydney three weeks later for the final Test of the series – and the last game of the five-week tour – when they take on the Qantas Wallabies at ANZ Stadium.

The news that the state will host three games has been warmly welcomed by the NSW Rugby Union and Waratahs Rugby.

Said Bruce Worboys, Executive Director of NSW Rugby Union, “We are thrilled with the inclusion of a fixture against the Combined Country side and delighted to be hosting this match in Newcastle.  Playing the touring Lions in one of NSW Country Rugby’s great nurseries will be a tour highlight.”

Past Lions’ tour schedules have always included a match against NSW Country.  In a break from tradition, in 2013 the visitors will take on a combined NSW and Queensland selection. “This match will see the very best amateur players up against one of the most professional touring sides in the world and it provides a great opportunity to showcase Country Rugby,” said Worboys.

Jason Allen, CEO of Waratahs Rugby added, “The Lions tour is the biggest event in international rugby behind the World Cup and to have the chance to take them on is a thrill for everyone involved with the HSBC Waratahs. Not only is it a rare opportunity for our players and coaches to test themselves against the very best from the northern hemisphere – something that only comes around once every 12 years – it’s also  something our members and fans will be very excited about.”

On the 2013 Tour, the Lions will play nine matches around Australia, with three set down for NSW under a long-term deal between the ARU and the State Government through Destination NSW. The centrepiece of the deal is playing a Bledisloe Cup Test in Sydney each year from 2012 to 2021, but the arrangement also includes three Lions matches in 2013. The tour will open with a match against the Western Force in Perth on Wednesday, 5 June, and ends with the Third Test in Sydney on Saturday, 6 July.

“The Lions tour here in 2001 was an extraordinary event and one which provided significant economic benefit to those cities which hosted major matches,” said ARU Managing Director and CEO John O’Neill AO. “More than 8000 Lions supporters came to Australia from the UK and Ireland on official tour packages and many more thousands made their own way here.

“Four years ago in South Africa there were said to be 40,000 Lions fans that made the trek there to support their team. The tradition and history of the Lions continues with every tour they embark on to New Zealand, South Africa and Australia. The Lions tour only once every four years, so they visit the big three Southern Hemisphere nations only once every 12 years. We’re delighted to bring three of those nine Lions tour matches to NSW in two years’ time.”

Before arriving in Australia for their nine-match Tour, the Lions will kick off their campaign with a match in Hong Kong against the Barbarians on Saturday, 1 June.

The full Lions Tour schedule is:
DATE                             MATCH                                                           CITY
Wednesday, 5 June       Lions v Western Force                                     Perth
Saturday, 8 June           Lions v Queensland Reds                                Brisbane
Wednesday, 12 June     Lions v Combined NSW-Qld Country             Newcastle
Saturday, 15 June         Lions v NSW Waratahs                                   Sydney
Tuesday, 18 June          Lions v Brumbies                                             Canberra
Saturday, 22 June         LIONS v QANTAS WALLABIES                    Brisbane
Tuesday, 25 June          Lions v Melbourne Rebels                               Melbourne
Saturday, 29 June         LIONS v QANTAS WALLABIES                    Melbourne
Saturday, 6 July             LIONS v QANTAS WALLABIES                    Sydney