British & Irish Lions: Women's team talks under way

Jasmine Joyce makes a break for Barbarians against England
The match between England and Barbarians in June 2019 is seen as a landmark for women's rugby

British and Irish Lions bosses have started talks with the home unions over the creation of a women's team.

Meetings have been held with the English, Scottish and Welsh rugby unions with another scheduled with the Irish Rugby Union.

The men's team has been touring since 1888 and the growth in the women's game has led to calls for a female tour.

"We can confirm that we've begun initial discussions with the home unions," said a Lions spokesman.

"They have been positive, informative and constructive."

A women's schedule could target USA and Canada where the women's game is stronger than the traditional tour venues of Australia and South Africa.

No timescale has been set, but in June Lions chief executive Ben Calveley said it was a case of "when, not if" a women's Lions tour takes place.

Discussions have covered financial viability, timing and tour destinations.

Lions tours have traditionally been to the southern hemisphere men's rugby strongholds of New Zealand, South Africa and Australia.

New Zealand are ranked number one in the world in the men's and women's games.

But World Rugby's women's rankings have Canada fourth in the world and USA fifth. Australia are ranked seventh and South Africa 11th.

A tour in North America would also aim to boost the image of the game and the Lions brand in a market where men's rugby has struggled to make an impact.

The Lions are among the sport's biggest brands, and arguably its most commercially powerful.

It was estimated in 2017 that each four-year cycle between tours generates a turnover of £39m and more than 35,000 fans travelled to New Zealand for the last tour, with close to half buying packages from the in-house travel operator, Lions Rugby Travel.

Profits are distributed back to the four home unions and ploughed into the development of the game.

A successful women's tour in North America is viewed as a major commercial opportunity.

Pressure for the creations of a women's Lions has increased since the success of the 2017 Women's World Cup and the advent of a women's Barbarians team the same year.

The Barbarians played their first match against international opposition when they faced USA Eagles in April 2019, and followed that with a Test against England at Twickenham on 2 June.

Wales wing Jasmine Joyce played for the Barbarians and said the Lions should follow their example and create a women's team.

England captain Sarah Hunter told BBC Sport that the women's Lions should have a separate identity to the men and not just copy the existing formula.

Timing is another potential discussion point. Men's Lions tours are scheduled every four years, clashing with women's World Cup.

Women's tours would probably have to be scheduled in different years which risks clashing with the men's Rugby World Cup.

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