By David Williams
Former England international Shaunagh Brown has hailed the possibility of a British and Irish Lions women’s tour joining a sport where the potential is “limitless”.
The prospect of Wales stars such as Jazz Joyce and Sioned Harries wearing the red of the Lions as well as that of Wales has long been a dream within the women’s game.
Brown believes that findings of a Lions feasibility study have provided “a massive green light” for women’s rugby to keep growing on the world stage.
A 13-strong steering group, chaired by former Lions and Wales wing Ieuan Evans, included the likes of Brown, Rugby Football Union chief operating and financial officer Sue Day, Irish Rugby Union performance director David Nucifora, plus World Rugby’s high performance manager Nicky Ponsford.
And the prospect of an inaugural Lions women’s tour remains on track after the study delivered a positive initial outcome.
British & Irish Lions chair Ieuan Evans said the organisation was "really encouraged by the initial findings of this feasibility study." https://t.co/98J7MfhNZF
— RTÉ Rugby (@RTErugby) February 28, 2023
Creating a Women’s Lions Tour: Exploring Rugby, Branding, and Logistics
It investigated key aspects of creating a Lions women’s tour, exploring rugby, brand, commercial, financial, spectator, logistical and scheduling considerations.
The Lions said work would now continue on areas such as the potential structure and timing of a tour before any final decision was made.
“Why wouldn’t we want a Lions tour for women?” Brown told the PA news agency. “In the men’s game, it is the ultimate honour.
For me, as an elite athlete, you always want more. We have been given this massive green light and there is something to aim for.
“All of the home unions have professional playing contracts, to an extent. What they look like is a different question, but it is the start.
“Every project has to start somewhere. If and when a Lions women’s tour happens, all players have strong potential of being professional. We will be a force to be reckoned with.” Brown feels that a women’s tour would need to be a stand-alone event, rather than in tandem with the men, whose next trip is to Australia in 2025.
“The way the Six Nations used to be run, everything was on the back of and around the men’s tournament,” she added.
“Then Covid happened and it was almost by accident that we now have our own separate Six Nations window in April and it works so well.
“For me, a separate women’s tour would be the way forward, as opposed to going off the back of the men. We have our own calendar and I think it is about what works for us.
“I feel like it (Lions tour) is going to happen. It’s exciting for the whole sport, whether it happens tomorrow or in 10 years’ time.”
A British and Irish Lions tour for women…… It's a yes from me. How will the squad be made up, who they would play and where they would play is all to be decided. What's your thoughts? https://t.co/vQelB5pxGw
— Shaunagh Brown (@ShaunaghBrown) February 28, 2023
British and Irish Lions Women’s Tour: A Positive Outlook for the Future, According to CEO Ben Calveley
Lions chief executive Ben Calveley said: “It is extremely positive that a British and Irish Lions women’s tour is possible in the future.
“While there is much to be considered, we are committed to taking the findings of this feasibility study and working closely with our unions, as well as other stakeholders in the coming months.”
Brown won 30 England caps and retired from the Test arena last year after the 34-31 World Cup final defeat against New Zealand in Auckland, which was watched by a crowd of 42,500 at Eden Park.
England, meanwhile, will play their forthcoming Six Nations home games at Kingston Park, Newcastle and Franklin’s Gardens, Northampton, before a potential title decider against France at Twickenham on April 29.
“We know how big women’s football is, but what is to say that we can’t grow at the same rate in rugby? The potential is limitless,” Brown said.
“The people around the game making decisions have similar ambitions. We want people who have our ambition as players to be in charge of our game.
“What is exciting is how far we can go. It is a good time to be involved and keep being involved and it is about embracing new people, new ideas.
“The train is moving, and it is hopefully not slowing down any time soon.”
The feasibility study was funded by Royal London, principal partner of the Lions women’s programme.