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Premiership officials furious over Gatland's Lions threat to English-based players

By Chris Jones
(Photo by INPHO/Dan Sheridan via Lions)

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Premiership Rugby bosses have been left bemused by the timing of the threat from Warren Gatland that English-based players could miss out on selection for the British and Irish Lions tour to South Africa unless they are released for a two-week training camp in the Channel Islands.


Gatland used the Tuesday media conference unveiling his four tour coaching assistants to suggest that players attached to English clubs not involved in the Premiership final could miss out on the trip to the home of the world champion Springboks if they were involved in a 50/50 call with a player from elsewhere who was free to attend the pre-tour departure camp. 

That suggestion hasn’t gone well, however, with Premiership officials. While Gatland was announcing a staff consisting of Gregor Townsend, Steve Tandy, Neil Jenkins and Robin McBryde, the PRL in England – Premiership Rugby Limited – and the Rugby Players Association were holding a meeting the same day with Lions representatives to discuss compensation for clubs who have players picked and the fee that those chosen to tour with the Lions will be paid.

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Wales out-half and Lions selection hopeful Dan Biggar guests on RugbyPass All Access
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Wales out-half and Lions selection hopeful Dan Biggar guests on RugbyPass All Access

Both of these key deals have yet to be agreed and there is considerable frustration about what the clubs see as Gatland’s unhelpful intervention. For the 2017 Lions tour to New Zealand, the players received £65,000 each and the same amount was paid to their clubs or unions depending on where they were based. 

Damian Hopley, the RPA chief executive, is leading the negotiations over player payments which are expected to be similar for this eight-match tour of South Africa. However, those negotiations are now being played out against the backdrop of Gatland’s claim that unless the English-based players are released for the training camp prior to the June 26 warm-up game with Japan at Murrayfield, they may not be considered for the likely 36-strong tour party.

A Premiership Rugby source told RugbyPass: “This has left everyone bemused as negotiations were taking place the day that he made that claim. Using the players this way is wrong. Why would any club do anything to stop their players from representing the Lions? The San Francisco agreement on player release was for a five-week, eight-game Lions tour and now Warren Gatland wants to extend the release period to eight weeks.”


Gatland’s warning to Premiership Rugby and the England-based players was clear. “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,” he said. 

“We understand about the Premiership final (on June 26) and players involved in that, but we hope to be together for a couple of weeks of preparation leading into the warm-up game against Japan. If some players are not available for that preparation time, there are some tough calls to make.

“What we are asking is can they be released a little bit earlier when they have 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 50/50 calls on players and think, ‘Well, he is based in England so he is unfortunately not going to be available to us’.”



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