It may mess with the traditional romance of the British & Irish Lions but interest could spike
Why does it always have to be the way we’ve always done it? Seeing the British & Irish Lions tour in France would be nice, sure, but, well some will wonder, what about the traditions.
In a sport scrambling for every foothold, there’s no doubt comfort with the familiarity of touring Australia one year, then New Zealand four years after that, then South Africa four years after that, then repeating.
And hashing out TV deals for “more of the same, yeah?” must be nice. The real change today, ooh that’ll come with opting for which of Sydney, Canberra or Adelaide comes first in the schedule, and so on…
But how quickly the Lions have gone from the adventurer’s spirit of mega tours and paddle boat journeys across vast oceans, to satisfying the same sponsors in safe sells on tours some operators could do with their eyes closed.
France 2023 was a Rugby World Cup not without issues, but it was another fine demonstration of just how much France loves its rugby. It loves the sport almost as much as the Lions have grown to fear change.
From a purely rugby point of view, a Lions tour in France would have a fixtures list packed with meaningful matches. Mid-weekers or early weekend matches against Toulouse, La Rochelle, Bordeaux, Toulon, Racing 92, Clermont, and others would be incredible.
Playing a match in Bayonne, say, against a Spain, Portugal, or Iberian side of the two combined would be amazing. And then the Tests – imagine a rocking Stade de France, a frenzied Velodrome in Marseille, a jumping Lyon. You could catch that Zombie feeling every game.
Now some will ask: where will it fit in?
How would a Lions tour in France work?
Firstly, from 2026, the world’s rugby calendar is shifting. Whatever it says about the powers that be, Lions years are enshrined within that. And at least in their word so far, the Top 14 are accepting of this.
Then you ask about where adding them to the Lions roster of tours would fit in. Suddenly, say, South Africa might host the tourists every 16 years, rather than 12. These nations see a big economic boost when the Lions touch down.
Well if you’re the Lions, having France in the mix potentially looking for involvement surely gives the tourists more leverage in any negotiations. And hey, France have shown they can throw a party that brings the world’s fans… And their big sponsors. Commercially, a tour in France could get a lot of suits excited.
Now that may remove some of the romance, but let’s not pretend the Lions hasn’t become a hurtling commercial vehicle. And as listed above, France’s rugby credentials are unimpeachable. Their heartlands are crazy for the game.
And with the momentum growing behind a potential women’s Lions, it’s clear there are only two real candidates for meaningful tour destinations: New Zealand and, yep, France. If you’re the Lions, what better way to show what you’re all about to the French rugby public than two tours in quick succession.
You doubt it’ll ever happen. There are always the cop-outs of matches on the way there, with the prospect of warm-up games in the Middle East or Southeast Asia whispered rather loudly. But those matches are great vehicles for performance nations, not giants like France.
Get a few disruptors in the room to broach this one. It’s at the very least a fun one to talk through.