Lions Tour and World Cup promise a new era for rugby in 2027
Dove-tailing a women's British & Irish Lions tour of New Zealand with the 2027 men's Rugby World Cup in Australia will provide more than three months of unprecedented top trans-Tasman action for the game.
New Zealand Rugby's chief executive, Mark Robinson, said at the announcement of the Lions tour that in three or four years, rugby would have evolved even more, and it will be a remarkable time for the sport.
He said NZR's evolution in what they were looking to do in the women's game and rugby generally was broader than anything they had done before.
"This will be another nod to that and a strong sign of commitment that we are growing and evolving."
As a result of hosting the 2021 Women's Rugby World Cup in 2022, New Zealand saw what the leading teams in black and those from across the country could do for their communities and in the major cities when bringing tours and opportunities to New Zealand.
The Lions tour has been three years in the organisation and has been well received in both hemispheres.
While other countries expressed interest in hosting a Lions tour, New Zealand's recent history, especially the Women's World Cup, and the legacy of rivalry between New Zealand and the Lions over the years were factors in securing the first tour.
With three and a half years to prepare, Robinson was confident with the growth occurring in Ireland, Wales and Scotland, there would be competition for places in the Lions side.
Future tour prospects along similar lines in the men's game when New Zealand, Australia and South Africa host a Lions tour on a 12-yearly cycle depend on the growth of the women's game in those countries. It was more of a question for the Lions, but Robinson said there was still work to be done worldwide to build a competitive balance in the women's game.
Hosting the tour was also part of lifting the Black Ferns' Test seasons from two games a year to potentially eight or nine games in 2024.
"It's an overall approach. You've got to have regularity of performance and a schedule so our teams and our fans can learn to understand and grow our international game. Then, having the ability to add in a pinnacle event like a Lions tour is the icing on the cake."
Black Ferns coach Allan Bunting said it was a special moment for the women's game. He remembered the unforgettable atmosphere in New Zealand when Lions tours happened. He played against the 2005 Lions side in their opening game against Bay of Plenty.
The week leading into the game was the biggest occasion in his rugby life.
He said it wasn't only the New Zealand women's game that would grow.
Critics in the northern hemisphere said it would be New Zealand vs England because of England's dominance, but he said the other countries would be involved, and their desire to make that team would help grow their games.
"That will make it harder for us, so we've got to grow it down here, and when they come through the country for the Test matches, and when they go through the smaller cities, and with the Barmy Army, or whatever it is called, the crowd is different.
"The noise is deafening out on the field, and for that to come through here and then over to Aussie, it is something entirely new."
Bunting said women's rugby had come a long way in the last two years, and to have a Lions tour on the radar would incentivise younger players in school now to want to be part of it, either playing Tests or for their provinces.