More support for B&I Lions tour revamp
SPOTLIGHT: Seilala Mapusua is backing plans for a radical change to the British and Irish Lions tour to Australia in 2025 with the most famous touring team in the world facing Fiji, Tonga and Samoa before a three-test series with the Wallabies.
Mapusua, the Samoa head coach, wants to ensure his country is included in the proposed schedule after Rugby Australia chairman Hamish McLennan failed to mention them when putting forward the idea of Pacific Islands fixtures.
McLennan only name checked Fiji and Tonga despite Samoa having recently qualified for the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France by defeating Tonga in two matches.
Mapusua told RugbyPass: “I hope we haven’t done something to upset Rugby Australia because we would want to be involved in any fixtures for the Pacific Islands nations against the Lions.”
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The quality of matches the Lions have been able to arrange leading into recent test series have raised questions about future tours with the provincial games on the South Africa tour which has just finished low on quality and did not feature any of the country’s top players.
Staging test matches in Fiji, Tonga and Samoa would not only give those Pacific Islands a much needed financial boost, it would also show the Four Home Unions really do want to offer tangible support rather than platitudes when it comes to helping nations that are frequently stripped of their young talent because of lack of opportunities at home.
Only Fiji have previously been allowed to face the Lions and in August 1977 they won a famous 25–21 victory as the touring team stopped off on their way back to home from a series loss in New Zealand.
Mapusua believes including the Pacific Islands nations would be a significant moment for rugby and said: “It would be awesome to have to Lions play in Samoa and you could make the tour to Australia six tests not just three against the Wallabies. I think that could be of real interest to the Lions because it would give them high-quality matches before the Test series and they would be battled hardened.
“One of the luxuries that the Lions have over other international teams is that time together and the more test matches you play the tighter you become and playing Samoa, Tonga and Fiji would be ideal.
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“It is encouraging that we are being mentioned in these kinds of plans but I would be more encouraged if we were having conversations with other Unions rather than just mentions when ideas are put forward. As the Pacific Islands rugby nations we get mentioned quite a bit but it still remains to be seen if that leads to us actually being included.
“We want those conversations to become meaningful for the future of our nations and I would be a massive supporter of making the Lions tour idea work.”
McLennon is confident the plan can work and said:“ We want to deliver competitive games against our teams and we’d also like to bring in countries like Fiji and Tonga. We want to boost the marketability of the tour and that’s what a lot of people would love to see.”
Having qualified for the 2023 World Cup, Mapusua is preparing for November tests in Europe against Georgia, Romania and possibly Spain while there is a match against the Barbarians at Twickenham on November 27 although that is outside the international release window.
With COVID-19 travel restrictions in the Southern Hemisphere likely to still be a factor, Mapusua will base his squad around those Samoan players already operating in Europe including Chris Vui and Alapati Leiua at Bristol and Logo Mulipola at Newcastle who were not involved in the Rugby World Cup qualifiers.
He added: “We will be looking to have between 12 and 18 players in the squad who are already in Europe and it will be difficult to bring up the guys because of travel restrictions. It is tough to make plans in terms of the quarantine period that the boys would face when they go back home. It means we will have minimal numbers from here and will rely on our European based players. We will be leaving around October 29 to head to Europe.
“We hope to be based in the UK and we are also looking at bases in France ahead of the Rugby World Cup. These matches will be an opportunity to build the pool of players we can use at the World Cup and there are a lot of boys scattered around France at the moment.”