The prospect of an unofficial “ fourth” Lions test against the All Blacks appears to have been scuppered by England’s decision not to release players for the Barbarians’ fixture against New Zealand on November 4.
The Barbarians had hoped that the match at Twickenham could be elevated to the status of an unofficial fourth Test to Lions tour, which concluded on Saturday with the series against the All Blacks drawn 1-1. Barbarians insiders were convinced that England head coach Eddie Jones was ready to support the match by releasing key Lions players but an edict has been issued by the Rugby Football Union making it clear they are going to be party poopers.”England players will be focusing on preparing for our matches ahead of the Old Mutual Wealth Series and will not be released for the Barbarians fixture,” a Rugby Football Union spokesman said.
The Barbarians revealed they would be looking to open discussions with the home unions in the hope of securing release for their Lions. “We are going to assemble an extremely strong team for this historic game at Twickenham,” a Barbarians spokesman said. “We hope it will include players involved in the exceptional Lions series with the All Blacks. The players will get the chance to face New Zealand for a fourth time this year. We have reached an agreement with Premiership Rugby, who have been very supportive about player release. We will talk with the home unions about access to players.”
As England stars will already have reported for international duty that weekend under the terms of the agreement between clubs and country, Premiership Rugby’s consent was not needed for their involvement in the match.
England had wanted to stage their own fixture at Twickenham against the All Blacks on November 4, only for negotiations to break down. They are due to meet for the first time in four years in November 2018.
As the debate over the feasibility of the Barbarians game becoming a fourth test continues, Saracens owner Nigel Wray has asked the question: “Why don’t the All Blacks play the Lions in a series in the UK?” He is being serious and believes the financial windfall for all concerned would make it an idea hard to turn down.
Wray said: “The question I ask is why don’t the All Blacks play the Lions over here in major stadia like Wembley, Twickenham, Cardiff, Dublin and Murrayfield? You could have warm up games with the top teams from each of the Home Unions; Munster, Saracens, Ospreys and Glasgow. Let’s not pussy foot around, we are talking about two big commercial organisations. When people say it is not about the money they actually mean it is about the money.
“ Saracens provided seven players and we cannot be accused not supporting the Lions. However, we can’t go on as we are at the moment and we need to sit down and organise a new deal and in any other industry if you are using someone else’s players they you do a deal because it is a fantastic brand. It needs to be well run and probably isn’t at the moment We probably get £60,000 for each player who went with the Lions but now, the agents for those guys, will be coming to me and pointing out their market value has gone up and will want better deals.”