In ye olden days, the big national rugby and teams embarked on long tours to the other side of the world, often spending most of the tour in a single country. Unlike soccer, the rugby nations were pretty spread out, and the main travel was by ship. So, naturally, teams didn’t travel around the world to play a couple of matches and then return. These tours were a big deal, usually lasting for a few months.
These long tours consisted of several matches against a variety of teams from the nation being toured. These could include regional teams, professional club teams, all-star teams, and always included test matches against the host national team. There’s never been anything like it in American sports so it may seem like a foreign concept. It would be like if the Chinese national basketball team came to the US and played some games against NBA teams, maybe an NBA All-Star team, some NCAA teams, and then wrapped it all up with a series against the Dream Team.
The British & Irish Lions are the last vestige of the old tour system. The team is only assembled every four years, with the best players from England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. The Lions very rarely play home matches, almost all of their matches are on tour. The tour destination rotates between New Zealand, Australia and South Africa. So the team is formed every four years but will only visit a particular country every 12 years. Next to the Rugby World Cup, Lions tours are 2nd biggest event in rugby. This downside is that three Tier One nations – Italy, France, and Argentina – are excluded completely.
Rugby teams normally play one game per week the Lions play twice a week, with the reserves playing in the mid-week game and the first-string guys playing in the important weekend games. This year’s tour consists of the following opponents: 4 teams from the South African pro league, 1 all-star team representing the Coastal region, an ‘Emerging Springboks’ team (aka young and upcoming SAfrican national team prospects), and 3 games against the Springboks (SAfrica’s national team).