COMMENT:

Cutting the Lions tour to South Africa down to eight matches in five weeks, from an already difficult starting point of 10 matches in six weeks, leaves me feeling immensely disappointed.

Long-term, there has to be a concern for the tourists' future.

If we do not allow the Lions to be competitive in a test series, then we are not doing the players justice and not allowing them to create that special environment. The danger is you make it too difficult to win tests.

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It shows a lack of understanding from the powers-that-be about the meaning of the Lions, and also of the preparation it takes to make them competitive in a test series, as they have been consistently in recent times, aside from 1983 and 2005.

The country almost stops on Lions' test weekends, and the number of supporters who travel to South Africa, Australia and New Zealand proves just how much of a positive the concept is for the game.

We have to be extremely careful regarding the future of the Lions, by not getting embroiled in too many of the small decisions.

Given the phenomenal experiences I've had with the Lions I'm admittedly slightly biased, but rugby has something special with the Lions, and it is not getting too parochial to say we should not lose the bigger picture of what they bring to rugby in both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres.

It is still the highlight of any player's career, to play either for or against the Lions. And undermining that with the decision to shorten the tour in 2021 is a mistake. How highly people perceive the Lions, both the supporters and players, has not been reflected in this decision.

It will be a hell of challenge for the players and coaches in South Africa just to be test match ready, and for the coaches to have given all the players a chance to work in a Lions jersey. New combinations and challenges need time.

Other sports would give their right hand to have a team and organisation like the Lions with that special affinity with sports people. When the tests are on, you get messages of support from all the other sports teams. The Lions are a genuine sporting entity and they are almost bigger than rugby in the way they relate to support and the general public.

We are coming off three hugely successful tours regardless of the results — 2009 in South Africa, 2013 in Australia and last year in New Zealand — and the tours have only grown in stature. It is the biggest jersey a player wants to put on, a team who draw people together in an environment no other side can create.

With the supporters, there is a genuine Lions environment and it is unique. The danger is that you are unnecessarily making that less viable.

I feel sad for the players who still have an ambition to play for the Lions. I was at a dinner in Cardiff for Sam Warburton and listened to him speaking about the moment he first put his Lions test jersey on his bed. He could not believe he was putting it on. It was all he ever wanted to do.

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Here was somebody inspired as a youngster by the Lions' badge. Lose the purpose of that badge, and who knows how many talented youngsters will not have the opportunity of that inspiration? That is what the Lions is to all clubs — it is one more way of bringing talent to the clubs' front door. Who knows what we might lose as a sport? You are denying that for the next generation of Lions players.

Everybody still thinks of the Lions as the biggest challenge in rugby,
with winning a test the greatest achievement. Rugby will suffer without the Lions being at their best.

The game is crucially an international sport, which is growing all the time. Rugby's strength is its global presence and the Lions are a big part of that.

From 26-week tours, we have seen the Lions decrease to 14, to 12 and to 10 weeks. But limiting the tour to just five weeks shows a certain lack of awareness regarding what the Lions are about, what the Lions mean to people and the amount of work and time required to make a Lions tour a success.

● Sir Ian McGeechan coached the Lions on five tours. He was head coach in 1989, 1993, 1997 and 2009 and was midweek coach in 2005. He was a player on the 1974 and 1977 tours.
- Telegraph Group Ltd