OUTGOING Rugby Football Union chief executive Ian Ritchie has defended the reduction in the number of matches on future British and Irish Lions tours.

The Lions’ drawn series in New Zealand generated huge interest in the team but, when the red shirts next convene in South Africa in four years’ time, it is unlikely the 10-match, six-week format will return.

An agreement on the global fixture calendar was reached in March, with an eight-game minimum set aside for the 2021 trip.

Capping it at that number — as well as shaving a week off the tour — has strong advocates in the powerful club game.

John Spencer, the team’s tour manager in New Zealand, has been openly critical of those suggestions, indicating it puts the entire concept at risk, but Lions director Ritchie disagrees.

“I think the Lions was an essential part of the global season, it is and it remains so. We’ve clearly agreed it will remain an essential part until at least 2032 and probably beyond,” he said.

“It’s been agreed to, but there will be some tinkering around the edges. We also agreed an eight-match tour certainly does work. I think the future is secure and I think that was the case almost irrespective of what the results were [in New Zealand].

“I think it [eight matches] can work and that was the discussion we’ve had.”

There is broad agreement on both sides of the debate that Warren Gatland’s side were pressed into action too early on this occasion, playing just three days after their long-haul flight.