The British and Irish Lions moved a step closer to a ‘home’ tour after Boris Johnson announced plans for sporting crowds to return by the summer.
Switching matches away from South Africa, where eight fixtures are scheduled for July and August, would be unprecedented in the history of rugby’s greatest touring team.
But it has emerged as the most attractive option following the unveiling of the Government’s “roadmap” for easing Covid restrictions in England.
The Prime Minister said crowds of 10,000 could be permitted in 40,000-plus capacity venues after May 17, with a view to all restrictions being lifted on June 21.
That would pave the way for normal service to resume at Wimbledon, The Open golf at Sandwich, the British Grand Prix at Silverstone and England’s cricket series with Pakistan (ODI) and India.
The Lions won’t make a decision before next month and insist every option remains on the table, not least as it is unclear whether the English roadmap will be followed by the rest of the UK and Ireland.
But with next to no chance of fans being able to attend games in South Africa, the opportunity to host the Springboks in front of crowds at home has obvious appeal.
Rassie Erasmus, the Boks’ director of rugby, said last month that the world champions were “desperate” to play the Lions and, if the series could not be played in South Africa, they would “go to option Z to make it happen”.
Star player Faf de Klerk added: “Obviously everybody wants it to be played in South Africa, but if it can’t be there and it can happen somewhere else then that would still be a great outcome in these times.”
Six Nations chiefs will rule tomorrow on whether the championship can continue unaffected by a Covid outbreak in the France camp.
Five more French stars yesterday tested positive for the virus, taking to 10 the number of Les Bleus to have contracted the virus and throwing into doubt their home game with Scotland on Sunday.
Saturday’s games between Wales and England and Italy and Ireland are not under threat.
But there are clear concerns for the Paris match after the table-topping French listed their coach, captain and star player among a raft of casualties.
Unlike the Autumn Nations Cup where covid-affected matches were cancelled, any Six Nations call-off will be rearranged.
“Ensuring the health and safety of all players and staff is our number one priority,” said a Six Nations statement.
“Should the decision be that the fixture cannot go ahead, the match will be rescheduled for the earliest possible date.”
The Six Nations Testing Oversight Group (TOG) was last night advised that the remainder of the French team who had tested negative would train with restricted movement and no close contact for the next 48 hours.