As the northern hemisphere club season comes to a conclusion, the collective gaze of players, coaches and fans will soon turn towards the international arena.
England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales in particular will be looking to add depth to their respective squads, with key players involved in the British and Irish Lions tour of South Africa.
But, while European nations would traditionally be preparing to embark on trips to North America or the southern hemisphere, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has ensured that some innovative tweaks have had to be made to the international calendar.
BULA! Throwback to the first Test match played between the All Blacks and @fijirugby back in 1987.— All Blacks (@AllBlacks) June 10, 2021
We can't wait to welcome Fiji back to New Zealand for two Tests in July.
Get your tickets here ➡️ https://t.co/xdCd2wlbD1 pic.twitter.com/V4WE8Twm21
Ireland had been due to play a three-test series in Fiji, while England had planned to travel to North America and Wales were hoping to tour South America.
In the face of the challenges presented by the pandemic around travel and quarantine, World Rugby worked with unions and other stakeholders to ensure that exciting match-ups could still take place.
Canada and the USA will now head to Europe to play England at Twickenham on successive weekends, while the Canadians will also face Wales and the Eagles are due to take on Ireland.
Wales, meanwhile, will now welcome South American opposition to Cardiff as they play two tests against Argentina at the Principality Stadium.
‘A really great set of fixtures’
One trip to the southern hemisphere that will be able to go ahead, of course, is the Lions’ tour of South Africa, and the Springboks will warm up for those tests with an historic two-match series against Georgia.
The two teams have met only once, at Rugby World Cup 2003, and the matches represent the first competitive action for the Springboks since the RWC 2019 final against England.
Following their assignment in South Africa, Georgia will host Scotland, who have also committed to playing a match against Romania in July.
Fiji, meanwhile, will play New Zealand in back-to-back tests for the first time, while the All Blacks will prepare for those games by playing Tonga in a one-off match at Mount Smart Stadium. Samoa will play the Maori All Blacks twice in a warm-up to their two-leg play-off with Tonga that will determine the Oceania 1 qualifier for France 2023.
In Australia, the Wallabies will host France in a condensed three-test series that features two midweek matches and is due to take place over just 11 days due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Les Bleus coach Fabien Galthié has picked a youthful squad of 42 players for the trip to Australia, with the touring party required to quarantine for two weeks ahead of the first test at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
“We’re absolutely thrilled and delighted to have some July tests confirmed, obviously in the men’s game, for 2021 after all the challenges of 2020,” World Rugby Chief Executive Alan Gilpin said.
“[We’re] delighted for all the teams involved. Really importantly, we’ve worked really hard and collaboratively with all of the unions and national teams involved to make sure that everyone’s got fixtures, that we can get moving around the world and that where possible we’re sticking to the original schedule for July, even though in some cases we’ve had to reverse those fixtures.
“Teams that were going to be hosting are now travelling and so on. What’s been really important and, you know, really pleasing is the level of collaboration around the world to make this happen.
“And, it's definitely been no mean feat to get these games scheduled. Still lots of challenges, because getting them scheduled is one thing, obviously we’ve now got to support a lot of those teams, particularly the emerging nations with their travel arrangements, their quarantine arrangements in many cases, that makes these matches challenging.
“So lots of work [done] to date on that, lots more work to do but I think hopefully what the rugby fans will see is a really great set of fixtures in July, working around what we hope will be a really historic and really fantastic British and Irish Lions [tour] to South Africa.
“So, as a package we’re really delighted.”
With RWC 2023 qualifying also due to continue in Europe, Africa and South America in July, rugby fans worldwide are set fair for a month of thrilling international action.