Rugby Union: Lions not endangered

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LIONS tours - the pinnacle of many players' careers even in these World Cup-orientated days - are safe despite an assertion yesterday by a famous old Lion that they had become excessive. After the 1993 tour to New Zealand, the next one to South Africa is not due until 1997.

Remarks initially made at the International Board meeting in April by the former Ireland prop Syd Millar, who variously played for, coached and managed the Lions, resurfaced when he said the combination of Lions tours and World Cups was a threat to amateurism.

'There's an insupportable burden on players and officials and the IB must look at the sort of programmes that men at the top have to carry out,' he said. 'If you want the game to remain amateur, the effect of the modern schedule on a player's career and home life must be a consideration.'

In fact a decreasing number of leading players want the game to remain strictly amateur, but in any event most are anxious to avoid the Lions' extinction. 'Lions tours are very popular with the players, and New Zealand and South Africa are wholeheartedly behind the tradition,' Bob Weighill, secretary of the committee of home unions, said yesterday.

Indeed, even with the memory fading, many of the Lions involved in the 1989 series win in Australia would still say it was the greatest experience of their rugby lives.

Tours can come much worse. Krasnoyarsk, the Siberian team visiting Scotland, have had three players sent off in three matches and so many of the rest of their party of 23 are injured that last night they appealed for three guest players to play against Currie in Edinburgh today. They tried the Scotland centre Scott Hastings but he turned them down.