British & Irish Lions: Late end to English season could cost players their place on tour says Warren Gatland

Warren Gatland has warned that the late end to the English club season could cost those who play in the Gallagher Premiership their place on the Lions tour.
Stuart Hogg in action for Exeter Chiefs. Picture: Adam Davy/PAStuart Hogg in action for Exeter Chiefs. Picture: Adam Davy/PA
Stuart Hogg in action for Exeter Chiefs. Picture: Adam Davy/PA

Before leaving for South Africa, the Lions are due to play Japan at BT Murrayfield on June 26. England’s Premiership final is scheduled for the same day and Gatland said that he may not select players for the tour who are not available for the Japan game.

Ideally, the coach would like to work with his squad for two weeks before the match in Edinburgh. They are likely to fly to South Africa the day after the game at Murrayfield.

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If Gatland maintains his hardline stance it could potentially jeopardise the hopes of English-based Scots such as Stuart Hogg and Jonny Gray, who play for Premiership champions Exeter Chiefs.

British & Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland. Picture: Adam Davy/PABritish & Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland. Picture: Adam Davy/PA
British & Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland. Picture: Adam Davy/PA

The coach said negotiations are still ongoing with PRL, the umbrella group that represents the top English clubs

“I’ve got to be conscious of the fact that we still don’t know what the situation is with PRL,” said Gatland. “It’s not just the English players – looking at the [possible] squad there could be 16-20 English-based players. There’s so much competition at the moment, so we’re trying to get a resolution on what PRL’s stance is on the release of players.

“We understand about the Premiership final and players in that, but we hope to be together for a couple of weeks of preparation leading into the warm-up game against Japan in Edinburgh. If some of those players are not available for that preparation time, we can only have a small group or we’ve got to call in extra stand-by players to play in that game, then when we are doing our final selection, with the amount of competition, unfortunately some of those players may miss out.

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“There are some tough calls to make and I’ll be looking at it and thinking, ‘Is two weeks’ preparation for that game and the tour better than trying to put a squad together at the last minute, to get on the plane and play the following week? Is that going to be a harder challenge than actually picking players who you can work and prepare with?’

“There have been agreements in the past and the Lions have always compensated clubs for the release of players – something they didn’t really have to do because the regulations allow for release on a certain date.

“What we are asking for is can they be released a little bit earlier, when they’ve finished their club campaign. I’m just hoping we can get some resolution and common-sense will prevail, so we don’t have to go through the squad and start looking at 50-50 calls on players and thinking, ‘Well, he’s based in England so unfortunately he’s not going to be available to us’.

“We are looking at going to Jersey for a two-week camp so the last thing I’d want is for players to miss out on the tour because of [not being available for] that.”

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The Lions are due to play three Tests against the world champion Springboks.

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