Otago Daily Times

Lions face player availabili­ty issues


LONDON: As if the British and Irish Lions did not already have enough hurdles ahead of this year’s South Africa tour, head coach Warren Gatland revealed yesterday they are still negotiatin­g with the English Premiershi­p over the release of players.

With evermore squeezed Lions due to travel to Jersey for a twoweek training camp ahead of a warmup match against Japan in Edinburgh on June 26, there was always going to be a clash with players involved in the Premiershi­p semifinals and final on the last two weekends in June.

Gatland, however, revealed the clubs who are not involved in the playoffs could still refuse to release players, even though their domestic season would be over on June 12.

‘‘That’s the current situation as I understand it and it’s not just English players playing there,’’ Gatland told a news conference where he announced his four assistants for the tour.

‘‘I think the Lions are talking to the PRL (Premiershi­p Rugby Ltd) this week and I’m just hoping we’ll get some resolution.

‘‘It’s a big one for us that when those players are finished with their clubs, they are available to us. In the past 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 that common sense will prevail, so we don’t have to go through the squad and start looking at 5050 calls on players and thinking, ‘Well, he’s based in England so unfortunat­ely he’s not going to be available to us’.

‘‘The last thing I’d want is for players to miss out on the tour because of that.’’

Gatland also said he was fully prepared for a situation where some selected players might opt out of what would normally be considered the pinnacle of their career due to concerns over spending so long in a secure antiCovid bubble in South Africa, where five provincial matches and three tests are pencilled in.

The New Zealander, Lions head coach for the third time, said he had pencilled in a provisiona­l list of around 50 players, to be whittled down to around 35, and would contact them all to see if anyone was making themselves unavailabl­e.

‘‘I wouldn’t hold it against any player and I’d understand their personal situation of being away from home, family and the challenges that’s going to bring,’’ he said.

‘‘We’ve got to be flexible and innovative. We’ve got to make sure the players’ welfare is paramount for us to get things right.’’

Gatland’s other chief selection headache comes with his Saracens contingent. The likes of Owen Farrell, Jamie George, Maro Itoje, Elliot Daly and Mako and Billy Vunipola would all normally have been expected to make the squad.

However, England’s poor form in the Six Nations, allied to the club operating in the secondtier championsh­ip with limited opportunit­ies for the big names to shine, has presented a different dynamic.

Gatland said he was seeking the balance between the Saracens contingent’s reputation and the form of potential challenger­s.

‘‘There’s no doubt that some of those players didn’t have the greatest Six Nations this year, but a lot of them have credit from past successes — whether it’s winning in Europe, winning the Six Nations, performing well at World Cups or previous Lions tours,’’ he said.

‘‘It’s probably not like it was 12 months ago where some of them would have been the first names on the sheet. Now you’re having a discussion about them in terms of knowing what they can do and what they’ve done in the past.’’ — Reuters


 ??  ?? Warren Gatland
Warren Gatland

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