The British and Irish Lions tour to South Africa in 2021 will be reduced to eight matches - because the home nation is expected to struggle to deliver the same quality of non-test matches that the tourists experienced in New Zealand.

The Guardian newspaper reported talks between the Lions and New Zealand, Australia and South Africa about an agreement to cover the three tours in the next 12 years are nearing an end.

The Lions played 10 matches on their tour of New Zealand earlier this year but concerns about the schedule surfaced even before the team arrived - with a number of pundits calling it a "suicide mission".

Warren Gatland's team drew the three-match test series 1-1, but lost midweek fixtures to the Blues and Highlanders, and couldn't beat the Hurricanes.


They were also unimpressive in beating the Provincial Barbarians (by 13-7) in Whangarei only three days after arriving in the country.

According to the Guardian, players were so jet-lagged before the first match, that at least one fell asleep on the coach to the game.

The decision to axe two fixtures from the 2021 tour reportedly follows sustained pressure from England's Premiership clubs over players' workloads.

Future tours could, however, revert to 10 fixtures, with the four unions who contribute Lions players keeping their options open. The 2025 tour to Australia is also likely to be eight fixtures but the 2029 tour of New Zealand could involve 10 matches due to the strength of the game there, the report said.

One of the main reasons the team have agreed to cut the number of fixtures is due to concerns that South Africa, unlike New Zealand, would struggle to field seven teams of sufficient strength outside the tests.

"Each tour will be looked at on its merits," an unnamed administrator told the Guardian.

"We will be keeping an open mind. A shorter tour means longer preparation time and clearly had the Lions been in South Africa this year, it is unlikely that there would have been the 10 meaningful fixtures that there were in New Zealand, where the strength of the warm-up teams meant the Lions went into the test series battle-hardened."

South Africa recently had two teams - the Cheetahs and Kings - cut from next season's Super Rugby competition, while the Springboks suffered their biggest ever test defeat earlier this month - the 57-0 rout by the All Blacks in Albany.