Lions to play Japan ahead of South Africa tour

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The British and Irish Lions will play Japan at Murrayfield in June ahead of their 2021 tour of South Africa, it was announced Wednesday.

The Edinburgh encounter, the first time the Lions have played Japan, will take place on June 26 — the same day as next season’s English Premiership rugby final.

The match will take place a week before the Lions’ tour opener in Cape Town.

It will be the first time the Lions have played a curtain-raiser Test on home soil since a 25-25 draw with Argentina in Cardiff ahead of the 2005 tour of New Zealand.

It will also be the Lions’ first match in Scotland.

“One of our objectives is to give Warren (Lions head coach Warren Gatland) and the playing squad as much meaningful preparation as possible before departing on tour, so we are delighted to have agreed this fixture,” said Lions managing director Ben Calveley.

“A Lions Test is one of the most iconic events in world sport, but a huge number of fans from the Home Nations never get the chance to see one live.

“The Vodafone Lions 1888 Cup match will give even more supporters the opportunity to be part of the next chapter in Lions history.”

– ‘Motivated Japan’ –

World Cup hosts Japan reached the quarter-finals last year, defeating Ireland, Scotland, Samoa and Russia in pool play before losing to eventual champions South Africa.

Gatland added: “We saw Japan play some excellent rugby during the World Cup, and they will come to Edinburgh fully motivated to win.

“They are a talented side who play high-tempo rugby, so it will be a good challenge for us ahead of the tour and a chance for the match-day squad to put their hands up for Test selection.”

Japan coach Jamie Joseph, Gatland’s fellow New Zealander, said his side were well aware of the significance of a match against the Lions, drawn from leading players in England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales.

“We are very much looking forward to playing a Test against the Lions next year,” he said. “It is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for our players, and we can’t wait for it to come.”

A condensed tour starting on July 3 will see the Lions play three Tests against the world champion Springboks as part of an eight-match schedule.

The 2021 Premiership final means Gatland is unlikely to have a full squad to choose from for the Japan fixture, with some absentees possibly involved in the English season climax.

Tickets for the Japan game will start to go on sale next month, although it remains uncertain whether spectators will be allowed to attend due to the coronavirus pandemic.

As things stand, international rugby union is currently being played behind closed doors as a result of Covid-19.

Scottish Rugby chief executive Mark Dodson said: “Scottish Rugby and the whole rugby community in Scotland will extend a warm welcome to the Lions and Japan, and we look forward to hosting fans for this unique ‘home game’ at what will no doubt be an enthralling match.”

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