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Lions face fixture headaches

By Chris Hewett

The British and Irish Lions, concerned that a lack of preparation time might undermine their chances of recording a first series victory in 16 years by beating the Wallabies in Australia next summer, have already resigned themselves to similar agonies ahead of the 2017 trip to New Zealand – by some distance the most testing of the destinations on the celebrated touring side's rotating schedule. And contrary to popular expectation, they will not be accusing England's elite clubs of rampant obstructionism.

"I don't see anything changing ahead of the next series with the All Blacks," the Lions chief executive, John Feehan, said yesterday. "That tour in 2017 will signal the end of our current agreement with Sanzar [the body representing the interests of the three major southern hemisphere unions] so, from that point, the future will be an open book. But as things stand, it's difficult to come up with a season structure that would give the Lions more time together ahead of departure unless we move the Lions window, which would create difficulties of its own.

"A few years ago the Lions did have problems with the Premiership over dates, but that was then. There have been no fallings-out this time. In all fairness, I don't think anyone seriously thinks that the two big domestic tournaments in the British Isles, the Aviva Premiership and the RaboDirect Pro12, should hold their finals as early as the start of May in a Lions year. Those are major competitions. It wouldn't look right if those finals were significantly repositioned."

The chief executive revealed that the main stumbling block to freeing up time for the Lions next year was the Heineken Cup, the leading cross-bor der tournament in Europe. Feehan indicated that the organisers of the competition were resistant to the idea of bringing next year's final, currently scheduled for 18 May, forward by a week or two. These things were easier in the early days of the Heineken Cup, when the whole thing was done and dusted by the end of January.

Meanwhile, the 30-year-old Leicester flanker Ben Woods has retired from professional rugby on medical advice. Woods has been suffering from a wrist injury.

Paul Vaughan has left his job as chief executive of the body set up to organise the 2015 World Cup in England. Vaughan will be succeeded by Debbie Jevans, currently director of sport at the Olympic and Paralympic Games delivery body Locog.

Belfast Telegraph


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