WELLINGTON, June 30 (Reuters) - New Zealand Rugby chief executive Steve Tew has rubbished suggestions the current British and Irish Lions tour of New Zealand will be the last but said future visits are unlikely to include so many games.
Several pundits and former players have said the congested global calendar, and pressure from English and Celtic-nation club teams, might spell the end for the four-yearly tours by the combined side to face the southern hemisphere heavyweights.
The Lions are expected to tour South Africa in 2021, Australia four years later before returning to New Zealand in 2029.
“We negotiated a new 12-year international calendar with Lions tours factored into that calendar,” Tew told New Zealand radio station Newstalk ZB on Friday, referring to the new global calendar that was signed-off on earlier this year.
“I‘m confident that we’ll see the Lions back here in the normal schedule that we’ve got going.”
Tew added, however, that future tours were unlikely to have such a packed schedule. The current tour has been heavily criticised with 10 matches scheduled, including games against all five Super Rugby sides, with former Lions and All Blacks coach Graham Henry calling the itinerary “suicidal”.
”I think it’s reasonable to expect that we probably won’t see a 10 game-tour again, the calendar is just too full.
“We have a strong view of what the minimum looks like, and that is around eight,” he added.
Tew has said previously that the Lions had requested the games against the Super Rugby sides to help prepare for the intensity of the three test matches.
The tourists played their first tour game less than four days after arriving in the country and were pilloried for an abject performance in a 13-7 victory over the semi-professional Provincial Barbarians.
Warren Gatland said jet lag had been an issue but the Lions coach had chosen to prepare the bulk of his squad in Britain and fly the entire team out after the European club finals, ensuring they only arrived in the week of the first game.
“There are obviously things that need to be considered going into the next series of Lions tours,” Tew said.
“They need a longer preparation clearly than they had this year, they could have done that themselves, they could easily have brought the majority of the squad over to play the Barbarians game and just left the guys playing the club finals behind, and join later.”
All Blacks captain Kieran Read said the tours were great for the game and pointed to the 20,000 Lions fans who descended on New Zealand as a reason why they should not be scrapped.
“I don’t think that will happen,” Read told reporters ahead of the second test in Wellington.
”It has just been so exciting being around the country over the last couple of weeks and seeing the supporters from both sides.
“The fans are so passionate about the game. I‘m sure it will continue.”
Editing by Peter Rutherford