Rugby World gets the views of legends Martin Johnson, Willie John McBride and Brian O’Driscoll

Should the Lions tour different countries? 

The British & Irish Lions 2021 tour to South Africa is approaching its midpoint, but there’s always time to cast one eye to the future.

In the new issue of Rugby World magazine, we look at the legacy of the Lions and whether it can continue for another 100 years.

Preparation time and player release are among the issues the modern Lions face, while another topic that comes up when looking at the future of the tourists is whether different countries should be on the schedule.

Up until the late Eighties, the tourists’ main destinations were New Zealand and South Africa, with fixtures in Australia often serving as ‘warm-ups’ en route to New Zealand. There have also been a couple of ‘unofficial’ tours to Argentina as well as one-off fixtures against the likes of Fiji, Canada and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka).

Since 1989, however, the Lions have rotated between Australia, New Zealand and South Africa so each of the southern hemisphere ‘big three’ get a visit from the best of Britain and Ireland once every 12 years.

Going forward, should the Lions tour different countries? Argentina have earned their place in the Rugby Championship – do they now deserve a Lions tour? What about the Pacific Islands? Or, a little closer to home, what about a tour of France?


Of course, a Lions tour is not just about quality opposition in the Test series but in the warm-up matches as well, so that is a factor to consider. Plus, adding another destination(s) would mean a longer wait between tours, which could increase the hype as the occasions become rarer or may see people in the host countries become less engaged with the Lions.

Andy Marinos, the Rugby Australia CEO who is preparing for the 2025 Lions tour, says: “It works well where it is and has well over 100 years of history behind it – everyone has got a story about their Lions tours.

“There could be an argument for extending it to Argentina. That would create more scarcity of product, not every 12 years but every 16 years. But it’s worked well for 100 years.”

Rugby World asked three legends of the game for their views…

Should the Lions tour different countries? 

Willie John McBride

Five Lions tours (1962, 1966, 1968, 1971 & 1974), 17 Tests

“I see no reason to change that. South Africa-Australia-New Zealand – I’d stick to that.”

Martin Johnson

Three Lions tours (1993, 1997 & 2001), eight Tests

“You could ask whether Argentina is big enough, has the quality to make a full tour, but they used to go to Australia as a warm-up, so could you fit Argentina in on the way? Or do an old-school, three-destination tour, and play in Canada and the US as well.

“Take the Lions around the world. The team is something people know, so use it as a way to promote the game.

“The Lions played Fiji in ‘77, and Fiji is never an easy place to play. Playing Japan (as the 2021 Lions did in Edinburgh) is good for Japan as well – they don’t get a lot of top games.

“I would have loved to play in Japan for the Lions or England because you don’t play there very often. If they’d suggested extending a tour by a week to go to Japan, I’d have said yes.”

Brian O’Driscoll 

Four Lions tours (2001, 2005, 2009 & 2013), eight Tests

“It’s very competitive with South Africa, New Zealand and Australia, three of the best teams in the world. I would worry for the Lions brand to go to a country and have a landslide 3-0 win in the Test series. That would definitely damage the brand.

“The growth of international rugby in these emerging nations is the responsibility of other Tier One nations rather than the Lions’ responsibility.”

What do you think? Should the Lions tour different destinations? Or should they stick to a tour of Australia, New Zealand or South Africa every four years? Email or get in touch via social media with your views.

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