Township start for Lions

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The Independent Online
The Lions will play in a South African township for the first time since apartheid was abolished when their 13-match tour of the Republic begins on 24 May next year in Korsten, outside Port Elizabeth.

It will be the first Lions visit to South Africa since 1980 and follows the recent pattern of Lions' trips to Australia and New Zealand, with the three Tests being crammed into the final weeks of the tour.

The Lions agreed to one match on their fixture list being in a township to assist the growth of the game there. A South African Rugby Football Union official said: "Sarfu remain committed to a vision of rugby becoming a truly national sport, representing the whole country. For this reason we are pleased that the Lions will visit a disadvantaged area in a suburb of Port Elizabeth."

The Lions will encounter South Africa's leading regional sides during their six-week spell in the Republic - Western Province, Orange Free State, Transvaal, North Transvaal and Natal - in a demanding build-up to the Test matches.

The games against Western Province and Transvaal are in midweek, which means there will be little opportunity during the early stages of the trip to split the squad into a Test side and a second team.

The Lions start at sea level, at Port Elizabeth, before going to the 6,000ft altitude of Johannesburg and Pretoria for the second phase of the tour at the start of June. They then return to the coast for the first Test in Cape Town and the second Test in Durban. The final Test is back at altitude in the World Cup final stadium at Ellis Park, Johannesburg, on 5 July.

While Lions tours are a popular survivor of the professional era, far less welcome, to the clubs at least, would be the continuation of the County Championship. The final of this season's CIS-sponsored version goes ahead at Twickenham on Saturday week, when Gloucestershire will take on a Warwickshire side that includes Trevor Revan, who was ordered off during a league match against Fylde last weekend.

The Rugby Lions forward, a member of last season's title-winning team, was dismissed for alleged punching, but Harry Walker, Warwickshire's match secretary, said: "Trevor can play until he comes before the county disciplinary committee, which has a backlog of cases to consider. So it seems unlikely that he would appear [before them] until after the final. Even if Rugby Lions imposed a club suspension - and I reckon that is improbable - then it would not affect his availability for the county."

Revan will train with the squad on Sunday and Warwickshire will announce their team the following morning.

LIONS TOUR TO SOUTH AFRICA (24 May-5 July 1997): 24 May v Eastern Province Invitation XV, Adcock Stadium, Port Elizabeth; 28 v Western Province, Cape Town; 31 v Free State, Bloemfontein; 4 June v Transvaal, Johannesburg; 7 v Northern Transvaal, Pretoria; 11 v South Eastern Transvaal, Witbank; 14 v Natal, Durban; 17 v Emerging Springboks, Wellington; 21 v SOUTH AFRICA, Cape Town; 24 v Border, East London; 28 v SOUTH AFRICA, Durban; 1 July v SA Barbarians, Welkom; 5 v SOUTH AFRICA, Johannesburg.

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