The Blue Bulls will not get the opportunity to play against the touring British and Irish Lions when they visit South African shores in 2009.
Phil Coetzer of Rugby 365 writes that this came to light when the schedule for the 2009 British and Irish Lions tour was officially unveiled in a press conference at the headquarters of the South African Rugby Union (SARU) in Newlands, Cape Town on Thursday.
SARU President Oregan Hoskins and SA Rugby Managing Director Jonathan Stones conducted the press conference, and revealed the ten-match tour itinerary which included three Test matches against the Springboks, to be played at ABSA Stadium in Durban, Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria and Ellis Park in Johannesburg.
The tour will commence at the end of May 2009, when the British and Irish Lions kick off proceedings against a Highveld XV at Royal Bafokeng stadium in Rustenburg.
Thereafter the Lions will play four matches against the major South African provincial unions, with the exception of the Blue Bulls.
The tourists will play against the Golden Lions, Cheetahs, Sharks and Western Province in succession, before playing a Coastal XV in preparation for the first Test against the Boks.
This means that the Pretoria faithful will have a chance of seeing the British and Irish Lions in action against the Boks at Loftus Versfeld, albeit not against their provincial team.
The Test series was scheduled to take place over the closing three weeks of the tour.
At the SARU press conference, Jonathan Stones explained that there were many elements to be considered in the scheduling of the British and Irish Lions tour to South Africa, and that SARU had fostered a close working relationship with all the provincial rugby unions, as well as soccer’s governing body FIFA, and the Local Organising Committee (LOC) for the 2010 soccer World Cup.
Stones revealed the complexities of organising the Lions rugby tour at a time when the stage would be shared with another major sporting event, FIFA’s Confederations Cup, a soccer tournament which will take place from 14-28 June 2009.
“2009 is quite a unique year, because in 2009 we’ll have the precursor to the 2010 [soccer] World Cup, the Confederations Cup,” said Stones.
“So we’ll have the British and Irish Lions touring at the same time as the Confederations Cup. This is going to teach us some lessons for 2010, and can be used as a dress rehearsal for 2010. But it does bring some unique challenges to us, in that there are rugby stadia that will be utilised not only for rugby in 2009, but also as host venues for the 2009 Confederations Cup,” Stones continued.
“We’ve been working together with the Local Organising Committee under Dr. Danny Jordaan for some time now, and have developed a very good working relationship with football, to the extent that in fact South African Rugby has offered any resources, any capability, and any capacity that we have that can be of assistance to football in 2009 and 2010.
“But there is this requirement of working together to make sure that the venues in fact serve the interests of both rugby and football.
“The reason for this cooperation was that the British and Irish Lions tour coincided with soccer’s Confederations Cup tournament, a dress rehearsal of sorts for the FIFA World Cup 2010,” he said.
The major organisational departure point for SARU was that FIFA would have jurisdiction over Ellis Park, Port Elizabeth Stadium (still under construction), Loftus Versfeld, Free State Stadium (under upgrade construction) and Royal Bafokeng Stadium, the venues for the Confederations Cup matches.
Because some of these venues were also needed for the Lions tour matches, it was imperative that all parties reached a compromise.
This necessitated open and constructive working relations between FIFA, the LOC and SARU, and the parties involved had to make concessions in order to arrive at a practical solution for both the soccer tournament and the rugby tour.
SA Rugby Project Manager for the Lions tour, André Homan, spoke to rugby365.com and explained in greater detail why the Blue Bulls were the ones to miss out on a match against the touring Lions.
“SA Rugby had to work very closely with all the parties involved,” confirmed Homan in reference to the cooperation of SARU, FIFA, the LOC, and the provincial unions.
“We all decided together on the major issues. We had to consider a multitude of factors before allocating the Lions tour matches. A very important factor was the Confederations Cup,” said Homan.
He went on to explain that the major problem in allocating a Lions tour match to the Blue Bulls rugby union was that there was no suitable time frame that could satisfy both SARU’s and FIFA’s needs in terms of match and stadium preparation.
According to Homan, FIFA directives stipulate that any venue for Confederation Cup matches may not host a major event within 15 days of that match. This relates to the stadium ‘turnover time’ required by FIFA – in other words, the time needed to get a stadium in full readiness for the Confederations Cup matches.
This involves getting the playing surface to the specified standard, applying sponsorship and advertising logos to the playing surface, erecting the appropriate advertising structures, etcetera.
Because of the unique set of circumstances of the concurrent soccer and rugby events, FIFA in fact made a concession to SARU, and shortened their moratorium on stadium turnover time to 10 days.
Unfortunately this still did not provide SARU with a suitable date for allocating a Lions tour match at Loftus Versfeld, and hence the Blue Bulls had to miss out due to these logistical reasons.
It was however not through lack of trying, and Homan felt that SA Rugby had done its utmost to ensure fair allocation of the tour matches.
“At the end of the day, we are confident that SA Rugby, FIFA, the LOC and all the [provincial] unions worked together to reach the best solution,” he concluded.
The full Schedule is as follows:
30 May: v Highveld XV, Royal Bafokeng Stadium, Rustenburg
3 June: v Golden Lions, Ellis Park, Johannesburg
6 June: v Cheetahs, Vodacom Park, Bloemfontein
10 June: v Sharks, Absa Stadium, Durban
13 June: v Western Province, Newlands, Cape Town
16/17 June: v Coastal XV, TBC
20 June: 1st Test v South Africa, Absa Stadium, Durban
23 June: v Emerging Springboks, Newlands, Cape Town
27 June: 2nd Test v South Africa, Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
4 July: 3rd Test v South Africa, Ellis Park, Johannesburg