The British & Irish Lions rugby union touring team has announced the addition of a women’s side for the first time in its 136-year history.
A tour will take place September 2027 against New Zealand’s Black Ferns national side during the women’s international competition window, one month prior to the men’s Rugby World Cup.
The tour schedule has yet to be finalised, but the Lions states that it will continue working with relevant leagues and other stakeholders to achieve this. Broadcasting rights are also unconfirmed, but the team has secured some commercial partnerships.
Ben Calveley, British & Irish Lions CEO, said: “Supporting the growth of the women’s game is a key strategic priority for The British & Irish Lions as it is for each of our Unions. Significant effort has gone into exploring the concept of a Lions Women’s Tour and great credit needs to go to the members of our steering committee, our board, and our staff.
“In particular, I want to recognise the collaboration of our four Unions and thank them for their continued support and the level of commitment they have shown throughout this journey. I would also like to thank World Rugby for the reforms to regulation 9 which makes this Tour possible in 2027.
“We are also very grateful to all the clubs as well as wider stakeholders who have all been very supportive and accommodating during this process. We look forward to collaborating further with all stakeholders over the coming months to finalise plans for this historic Tour.”
Regarding commercial agreements, Royal London has been confirmed as the Founding Partner of the women’s team and a front-of-jersey sponsor for its official uniform, whilst playing a role in funding the 2027 tour.
The bank plans to deliver a Pathways Funding grant to develop women’s player and coach pathways in England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, and invest in grassroots rugby across both the UK and Ireland.
Meanwhile, insurance broker Howden has been named a Series Title Partner for the tour. This forms part of its wider agreement with the British & Irish Lions institution which has included community support through the Lions Origins Clubs and a front-of-shirt sponsorship of the men’s 2025 Australia tour.
In the team’s official statement, Calveley highlighted Royal London as an “outstanding partner” to the team and a “consistent advocate for both this tour and the women’s game”, whilst adding that Howeden have “demonstrated a real appetite” for growing women’s rugby.
“Playing three Test matches against the current world champions, the Black Ferns in New Zealand in front of thousands of fans represents the ultimate challenge and makes for a fantastic sporting spectacle. We look forward to working with all our stakeholders including New Zealand Rugby to finalise an exciting inaugural Tour.”
Ieuan Evans, Chairperson, British & Irish Lions, said: “This is a key development for women’s rugby and women’s sport in general and we are pleased to announce initial details of the Lions Women’s Tour alongside our constituent Unions, Founding Partner Royal London and Series Title Partner Howden.
“Alongside all the other key stakeholders who have played crucial roles in bringing this concept to this point, we also want to thank our partners in New Zealand Rugby who we are excited to work with in preparation for the Tour.
“Having seen the superb job they did in hosting the Women’s Rugby World Cup in 2022 and the level of interest there was amongst the New Zealand public I have no doubt they will be fantastic hosts and will really add to the overall spectacle.”
As mentioned above, broadcasting arrangements for the tour have not been ironed out, but given Sky Sports is the media partner for next year’s men’s tour, the company is a likely contender for the debut women’s series in 2027.
The announcement marks continued growth trajectory for women’s rugby, which like other women’s sports has enjoyed greater commercial success in recent years. For example, lastyear saw TNT – one of the UK’s biggest sports broadcasters – secure media rights to Premiership Women’s Rugby.
Calveley concluded: “Playing three Test matches against the current world champions, the Black Ferns in New Zealand in front of thousands of fans represents the ultimate challenge and makes for a fantastic sporting spectacle. We look forward to working with all our stakeholders including New Zealand Rugby to finalise an exciting inaugural Tour.”