First Lions women’s tour confirmed for New Zealand in 2027 – how it will work

Shaunagh Brown, Megan Gaffney, Elinor Snowsill and Niamh Briggs launch British & Irish Lions women’s team – Billy Stickland/INPHO/Shutterstock

The British and Irish Lions have announced that an inaugural women’s team will tour New Zealand in September 2027.

The team will play three tests against the Black Ferns, the reigning world champions, as well as five warm-up matches in New Zealand, which are expected to be against provincial teams.

The confirmation of a first-ever women’s team marks a new chapter in the Lions’ 136-year history, with chief executive Ben Calveley calling a “historic milestone” for women’s football, warning it would not simply be a copy-and-play version. paste. of the men’s tours.

“What we won’t do is simply replicate what happens in men’s football,” Calveley said. “This is potentially very different. We see ourselves in the future going to many very, very different places.

“You could see that France would be really interesting for a women’s Lions tour in the future, the same in North America – they will host the men’s and women’s World Cups in 2031 and 2033.

Shaunagh Brown during a press conference at The Power Station cinema, LondonShaunagh Brown during a press conference at The Power Station cinema, London
Former England striker Shaunagh Brown speaking at Lions launch event – Zac Goodwin/PA Wire

“The page is blank and we can go anywhere as long as it is suitable for the growth of women’s football.”

Significantly, no international quotas would be imposed on a women’s team, which would follow the same merit-based selection process that has been implemented for the men’s Lions teams.

There have been fears that English players will dominate a women’s Lions team, given that the Red Roses have been the most successful home nation on the women’s Test scene in recent years, having won the last four Six Nations titles.

Organizers insist the women’s team will be commercially sustainable, having secured two commercial partners to support the 2027 tour. Royal London, the Lions’ global partner, will act as founding partner of the women’s team, while insurance company Howden has been confirmed as lead partner for the inaugural series.

The money invested by Royal London will be invested directly into player pathways in each of the home unions to support the continued and broad-based growth of the women’s game.

“We are very clear that we are just one part of the global rugby ecosystem and we are now a very new part of women’s rugby, and we wanted to make sure we were making decisions that were in the best interests of the world. Lions, but also for the benefit of women’s football,” Calveley said.

The development follows months of work by the Women’s Lions feasibility steering group, made up of administrators from across professional rugby, business executives and former players, which last year concluded that a tour would be commercially sustainable.

The key questions

Why New Zealand?

Quite simply, the Black Ferns are the queens of women’s rugby. In truth, they are one of only two rugby nations, along with France, that would be competitive opponents for a Lions women’s team. The British and Irish Lions have also taken inspiration from the country’s record-breaking World Cup in 2022, which retrospectively acted as a model for the 2027 tour.

“These games will be very competitive, but we also anticipate that they will be sold out, so we will have passionate fans in packed stadiums,” said Lions CEO Ben Calveley. “There will be a large media presence, high levels of interest from broadcasters, etc. And most importantly, it is commercially sustainable, not only for the Lions but also for the host, New Zealand Rugby.”

Where will future tours go?

While New Zealand was the “unanimous” choice for the 2027 tour, France and North America have been touted as potential venues for future women’s tours, which would deviate from traditional tourist venues in men’s football.

“We spoke to a lot of different countries around the world, as you would expect, and the good news is that there was a lot of interest,” said Calveley, who remained tight-lipped about what other nations were debating as part of long-term plans. “New Zealand are back-to-back world champions and are such a rugby-loving nation that the level of competition for 2027 would be significant.”

Won’t it be full of English players?

The short answer is yes. While the landscape of women’s rugby could change over the next three years, it is difficult to imagine the Lions’ first women’s team being truly representative of each of the home nations. England, who will be heavy favorites to win a fifth consecutive Women’s Six Nations this year, were the first women’s team to benefit from professional contracts five years ago. Wales, Scotland and Ireland have been slow to follow suit, although with a large contingent of non-English players now playing for their club rugby in England’s top flight, Premiership Women’s Rugby, that could soon change.

Who pays for it?

Money is often a sticking point in women’s rugby which, for the most part, operates at a loss compared to the riches flooding into men’s rugby. To put it in context, the Red Roses’ historic Grand Slam final at Twickenham last year, which attracted 58,498 spectators in May, raised around £1 million for the Rugby Football Union. Calveley, however, has promised that the 2027 women’s tour will be a commercially sustainable venture, having already secured two commercial partners in Royal London and Howden.

Which are the next steps?

The Lions will form an advisory group that will be tasked with mapping out the finer details for the 2027 tour, including what the warm-up games will be, recruiting a coaching team and what television coverage will look like. “We know we will play three tests against the Black Ferns, but the rest of the program will be determined and, more importantly, put together in accordance with the women’s specific player loading guidelines that World Rugby and the UK are currently working on. International Rugby Players Association,” explained Calveley.

What does this mean for women’s football in general?

Being selected to play on the Lions’ first women’s team could be the pinnacle of some players’ careers. The Lions brand undoubtedly has prestige and its – some would say belated – foray into women’s rugby should bring more attention to women’s rugby. But the idea of ​​the world’s best local players taking on six-time world champions New Zealand will do little to develop the competitive landscape of women’s football. In fact, the concept couldn’t be further from what World Rugby is trying to achieve through WXV, the global women’s competition that launched last autumn to give developing nations in the women’s scene more testing opportunities.

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