The British & Irish Lions tour to South Africa in 2021 will be reduced to eight matches, but future trips could be restored to 10 fixtures with the four home unions keeping their options open.
Talks with New Zealand, Australia and South Africa about an agreement to cover the three tours in the next 12 years are approaching a conclusion.
The Lions have come under pressure from the Premiership, which secured the backing of the Rugby Football Union, to cut the duration of tours and reduce the load on leading players by shortening the tour.
One of the reasons why the Lions have reluctantly agreed to cut the number of fixtures is the belief that South Africa, unlike New Zealand this year, would struggle to field seven teams of sufficient strength outside the Tests.
“Each tour will be looked at on its merits,” one administrator said.
“We will be keeping an open mind. A shorter tour means longer preparation time and clearly had the Lions been in South Africa this year, it is unlikely that there would have been the 10 meaningful fixtures that there were in New Zealand where the strength of the warm-up teams meant the Lions went into the Test series battle-hardened.”
The thought is if New Zealand rugby remains strong, it would be worth playing 10 matches there in 2029.