South Africa’s Lions rugby team says it has canceled a planned US tour, because of uncertainty over the quality of opposition and the cost of traveling.
The Johannesburg-based Lions, once the most powerful union in South Africa (as Transvaal) but now relegated from the Super 15 and replaced by the Port Elizabeth-based Kings, were due to play matches against a North American All-Star XV, made up of American and Canadian players and led by the US Eagles captain Todd Clever – a former Lions player – in California and Texas this month.
The USA national coach, Mike Tolkin, was due to supervise the “home team” in what was billed as the Rugby Showdown, and had named his squad for the first game, which was scheduled to be played at Titan Stadium in Fullerton on 13 April. The second game, meant for Vancouver on 20 April, had been moved to Texas – although no venue had been announced. The US Eagles played Italy in Texas last year, attracting 17,214 people to the BBVA Compass Stadium for a 30-10 defeat. Ticket prices for the California game had recently been reduced.
Apart from Clever, who earns his living in Japan, the North American All-Stars were due to play without any Americans or Canadians who play professionally overseas – such as the US full-back Chris Wyles, who plays for Saracens in the English Aviva Premiership, the Eagles wing Takudzwa Ngwenya, who plays for Biarritz in the French Top 14, or the Canada lock Jamie Cudmore, who plays for Clermont Auvergne.
The Lions had planned the games as part of a season of friendly fixtures to prepare for a Super Rugby promotion-relegation playoff in July. The Lions said on Friday the decision was taken partly due to the increased touring costs with South Africa’s weakening currency. Chief executive Manie Booysen said “alternate arrangements” would be made for the squad, which is in danger of being out of practice for its crucial Super Rugby playoff, which will determine whether it re-enters the Super 15 next year.
On Friday afternoon, USA Rugby released a statement which said: “Tickets purchased for the Rugby Showdown at Cal State Fullerton’s Titan Stadium will be refunded in full.”