This time the Lions will play two of their three Tests on the Highveld – and what’s more, the first Test at altitude in Pretoria will be played immediately after two tour matches at the coast against Western Province and a Coastal XV.
Why the Lions agreed to this particular part of the itinerary, will remain a mystery. After all, they start off with four matches at altitude which would have acclimatised them perfectly for the Test, but then move down to the coast for the two matches preceding the first Test.
Another tough part of the tour is the match against the Junior Springboks which is scheduled for a Tuesday ahead of the second Test in Durban, and only three days after the first Test.
On this tour, the Lions will not have their great ally, the slow, heavy Newlands, where they traditionally perform well. The Test matches are scheduled for Pretoria, Durban and Johannesburg.
Newlands will, however, host two matches – the Western Province fixture and also the Lions match against the Junior Springboks.
In 1997, the first two Tests were played at sea level (Cape Town and Durban). Both were won by the Lions. The Boks comfortably won the third Test at altitude at Ellis Park, after the series had been decided.
As has become the custom in the professional era, the tour is relatively short with only 10 matches over the six week-itinerary – but into it have also been fitted games against the 2007 Super 14 champions, the Bulls, who will be playing as the Blue Bulls, 2007 Currie Cup winners, the Cheetahs and the losing finalists in the 2007 Currie Cup, the Lions.
Other matches, outside the three Tests and the near-Test against the Junior Springboks, will be the opener against the Highlands XV in Rustenburg, and matches against the Coastal XV in Port Elizabeth and Western Province in Cape Town.
The matches against the Highveld XV and Coastal XV are to provide players whose unions do not play the Lions the opportunity of a match against the tourists.
In the case of the Highveld XV, the Leopards, Falcons, Pumas and Griffons will probably make up the composite side.
The Coastal XV, however, could see virtually the full Sharks side play the Lions on the Wednesday before the first Test, as the Durban-based franchise does not have their own fixture against the tourists. The Sharks will be supplemented by players from the Eastern Province, Border, SWD and Boland.
A decision on who will coach the 2009 British and Irish Lions is likely to be made only after completion of the 2008 Six Nations Championship.
John Feehan, the Lions chief executive, has been quoted that there could be upwards of 50 000 Lions fans making the trip to South Africa.
The itinerary, which isn’t yet official but has been leaked to the press, is:
May 30: Highveld XV, Rustenburg
June 3: Lions, Johannesburg
June 6: Free State Cheetahs, Bloemfontein
June 10: Blue Bulls, Pretoria
June 13: Western Province, Cape Town
June 17: Coastal XV, Port Elizabeth
June 20: First Test, Pretoria
June 23: Junior Springboks, Cape Town
June 27: Second Test, Durban
July 4: Third Test, Johannesburg