Rugby Australia has raised fresh hope that this summer’s British and Irish Lions series against South Africa can go ahead by offering to host the tour.
The Lions are due to visit South Africa in July and August, highlighted by a three-Test series against the world champions.
But the coronavirus pandemic has created considerable uncertainty over whether the eight-match trip will take place and the new variant in South Africa has made it extremely unlikely they will be able to host.
Possible options under consideration by Lions chiefs were playing the games behind closed doors, delaying the tour until next year or hosting games in the United Kingdom and Ireland.
But Rugby Australia chairman Hamish McLennan has confirmed reports on Saturday that they have offered to step in and host the series.
Speaking to the Sydney Morning Herald, McLennan said: “What we learnt from the Tri Nations last year and the tennis that’s happening now is that Australia can successfully stage global tournaments in a COVID world.
“It’s particularly tough in the UK and South Africa at the moment and I believe the more international rugby that gets played here, the better. We’re here to help.”
McLennan says profits from the tour would be split between the Lions and South Africa, with Rugby Australia merely covering their costs.
The move would also offer significant hope of matches being played in front of fans. Crowds have returned to live sport in the country and up to 30,000 fans will be allowed to watch next month’s Australian Open in Melbourne.
Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones said earlier this week that the tour should go ahead “if it can”.
“I think it needs to go ahead this year,” Jones said, speaking during Wednesday’s Guinness Six Nations virtual launch.
“The jury is out on where it will happen.
“We all know the jeopardy that it’s in. All being well, everyone will be safe and looked after if it does go ahead, for those guys selected.
“It would be a travesty if the fans weren’t able to go and see it.”