The British and Irish Lions are exploring the option of basing themselves in Jersey as part of a contingency plan if this summer’s tour of South Africa is moved to the British Isles.
With the prospect of large crowds in July and August making a “home” tour more appealing, it is understood the Lions head coach, Warren Gatland, has recently visited the channel island to assess the facilities at a new multi-million pound sports complex.
While a final decision over where the tour is held is not expected until next month, contingency planning behind the scenes for a home option has already started, while Jersey could also be used as a pre-tour camp if it does ultimately take place abroad.
Gatland is thought to have scouted out other UK venues but it is believed he has held discussions with the Jersey parliament, and that the Lions have block-booked two hotels for July and August on the island, which is among the places in the British Isles least affected by Covid-19. Gatland is also said to have been impressed by the new state-of-the-art complex – set to open in May – complete with a hydrotherapy pool and altitude chambers on land bought from Jersey Rugby Club.
In addition, Jersey appeals on safety grounds given it had only 25 active Covid-19 cases as of Friday and restaurants and hotels were allowed to open again at the start of this week. The island also has strict border controls but the Lions would be exempt from quarantine as an elite sports team. The benefits of using Jersey, therefore, are obvious but would mark a significant sea change for Gatland, who opted for mini-camps at Carton House near Dublin and the Vale Resort outside Cardiff – the home training centres for Ireland and Wales respectively – before the tour of New Zealand in 2017.
The Lions insist that no final decision has been made and that touring South Africa behind closed doors and relocating the tour to Australia are still live options. The Australian government has agreed to underwrite the tour – in the event that a Covid-19 outbreak meant crowds would not be able to attend matches – and the UK government has been asked to do the same. The Lions need stadiums to be operating at about 25% capacity to be financially viable but the government’s road-map out of lockdown, released earlier this week, says that from 21 June all restrictions could be lifted.
The Lions are due to play their first match – a warm-up Test against Japan – at Murrayfield five days later but the Scottish government has not yet provided a date for when large-scale crowds may return.