John Spencer, manager of the British and Irish Lions tour to New Zealand in 2017, believes that the future of the team has been put in jeopardy by the decision to compress tours to five weeks.
"I have serious concerns about the integrity of the Lions," Spencer said. "I fear for their future. I really do. What we have ended up with is crazy. The Lions have to be competitive. They have to have time together. The players deserve a chance to show what they have to offer.
"Reducing a tour to eight matches compromises that sense of fairness. I said it would at the end of the tour in 2017 and it got me into trouble. Well, it has come to pass and nothing has changed. I have not come across either a player or a supporter of the Lions who disagrees with me. The more you condense the tour, the less chance you have of winning the series. In 2017 we were trimmed back to the bare bones of a schedule. Players were falling asleep on the bus to the ground in that first week as they had had no time to adapt to jet-lag let alone to get to know each other. "
Spencer saw at close quarters just how difficult it was to mould a squad even when there were training weeks schemed prior to departure for those not involved in end-of-season finals.
Several England players will have no training time available to them with the new playing calendar stipulating that they will have to go straight from the Premiership final on June 26 to the Lions tour that begins in South Africa in the first week of July. Spencer feels for the England players who will have little chance to prove their worth and will be at a disadvantage compared to their Irish, Welsh and Scottish counterparts. The Pro14 finals are expected to take place in early June.
"If I were still an England player, I would not be feeling great about that," he said. "You want to be on an equal footing with your rival for the shirt, but how can that be under this arrangement? It seems to me inevitable now that the Lions squad will have to fly out in two separate groups – those not involved in finals, then the rest. Do that and you undermine the sense of togetherness that is the essence of the Lions, a belief that everyone is in it together. Of course the boys would do anything for the Lions. They all bleed the Lions. But we have backed them into a corner with this. It's not fair. And it's not right."
Former Lions and Scotland captain Gavin Hastings is another who believes that the Lions have to be a fundamental part of the calendar but accepts that pragmatic forces are in play.
"In an ideal world you would want to have Lions tours of 10 or 12 matches so that everyone gets a crack at playing for a Test spot," said Hastings, Lions captain in New Zealand in 1993 as well as first-choice full-back on the 1989 tour to Australia. "But it is not a perfect world. If this has come about as the only way to have a Lions tour, then certain realities might have to be accepted. But the Lions must be an essential element in the schedule."