British and Irish Lionesses? Womens rugby could break new ground in New Zealand

Women's team could follow in the Lions famous footsteps

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The Independent Online

The British and Irish Lionesses – it has a ring to it, wouldn’t you agree? Not for a full tour yet, in the manner of the men who will be playing 10 matches in New Zealand next year, but maybe two or three Test matches to begin with, so the females could dovetail excitingly with the males’ 125-year-old touring team, and take a deserved next step for women’s rugby into the public consciousness.

The men’s Lions tour every four years is a much-loved odyssey turning over many millions of pounds in sponsorship and broadcast revenues. They will be in New Zealand in June and July 2017, and The Independent on Sunday understands that the England women’s team have pencilled in a trip to the same country at around the same time as part of their preparations for the women’s World Cup, to be held in Ireland in August 2017.

If the Unions of Scotland, Wales and Ireland could agree, it would be a relatively simple task administratively to upgrade the England tour and create the first British and Irish Lionesses, feeding off and contributing to the buzz around the men’s trip, with upwards of 20,000 spectators expected to travel Down Under from the UK and Ireland. The official ticket-and-flight packages, which start at £2,999 per person, go on sale this Wednesday.

Sources at British Lions Ltd in Dublin confirmed to the IoS that the idea of a women’s Lions tour crops up in informal discussions from time to time, but the official line was that there are “no plans” to create one at present.

And sources close to the England women’s team maintained that they expected each individual national Union to be concentrating in the summer of 2017 on their run-ins to the World Cup being staged in Dublin and Belfast, where England will defend the title they won in France in 2014, which generated front-page headlines here.

England’s female football and rugby league teams are both nicknamed the Lionesses, but rugby union’s version would have a different smack of authenticity with the weight of the men’s history behind them. Under head coach Warren Gatland, the British and Irish Lions won their most recent Test series, 2-1, in Australia in 2013, with blanket media coverage back home.

Banding the four women’s Home Unions together as one for the first time would be a fantastic experience for all concerned, and with 30 players at most required for a short tour of two or three matches, it need not be significantly disruptive to World Cup preparations. 

New Zealand’s Black Ferns are immensely popular in their home country, having won four World Cups from 1998 to 2010, and domestic crowds would surely embrace an inaugural Lionesses series. 

Matches could be staged in the same cities as the men’s Tests in Auckland and Wellington, and maybe even on the same day.