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Lions tours must be protected despite calendar shift, says Springbok coach

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By Reuters
Lions tours must be protected despite calendar shift, says Springbok coach
FILE PHOTO: Rugby Union - Rugby Championship - New Zealand vs South Africa - Wellington Regional Stadium, Wellington, New Zealand - September 15, 2018 - South Africa's coach Rassie Erasmus reacts after the game. REUTERS/Ross Setford   -   Copyright  ROSS SETFORD(Reuters)

LONDON (Reuters) – Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus said future tours by the British and Irish Lions should be protected as restructuring of the season in England threatens to cut the length of the 2021 series in South Africa.

With the English domestic season being revamped from 2019-20 onwards, the 2021 Lions tour is scheduled to be cut back. In previous tours, the Lions played three tests and seven additional games against local teams. However, in 2021 there will only be five additional games, making a total of eight.

“I can’t really comment on the structure and amount of matches, but my first test match was against the Lions, so for me they are a very special team,” Erasmus told a press conference on Monday as he arrived with his team for Saturday’s test against England at Twickenham.

“When I was coaching at Munster, I had the chance to experience more the soul of the Lions. When you’re on the other side, they are your opponents, but when you’re here you almost understand what it’s all about.

“I don’t know if cutting it down to less matches will take that soul away, because I think the Lions will always be something big.

“But if there’s anything that threatens the Lions’ future, I think that should be taken out of the equation, because it’s a wonderful organisation,” he said.

An under-resourced South Africa are expecting a thorough examination on Saturday with the Twickenham test offering vital experience to fringe players, he added.

“Playing against England, under pressure in a full stadium, will be a new experience for some of the players and it will provide me with some good answers,” said Erasmus, who cannot use any of his English or French-based players because the match falls outside of the international window.

That means Willie le Roux, Faf de Klerk, Francois Louw and Cheslin Kolbe will not be considered.

South Africa will also rest lock Franco Mostert, who is to join Gloucester but is in a contractual dispute with the Lions.

“That’s a touchy thing at this stage, we just decided not to involve him this weekend just to settle at his new club. If we went into detail we could have selected him, but we decided not to go into that.

“He’s a great player and has played most of his matches at five for us, so he will be missed. But we’ve got some options. It’s just fair to give him some time to settle in,” Erasmus added.

“When we agreed to this test we knew it would be this way. For me it was most important to get another test match before the World Cup.”

(Reporting by Mark Gleeson; Editing by Pritha Sarkar)