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Premiership Rugby's row with the Lions over pre-tour player release has finally ended with an agreement

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

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The impasse between the Lions and the release of players from Gallagher Premiership clubs and tier-two Saracens ahead of the tour to South Africa has been resolved after English rugby officials finally agreed that players can link up with Warren Gatland’s squad as soon as their club commitments for the 2020/21 season end. 


There had been a row in recent weeks over players being kept on at their clubs until after the Premiership final on June 26 as that same day’s Lions versus Japan match at Murrayfield fell outside the current World Rugby regulation nine player release window, as did plans for the pre-tour training camp in Jersey. 

Gatland generated headlines a fortnight ago when he threatened that English-based players could miss out on selection if there were not made available to train for the Lions in the build-up to the tour. However, an agreement on player release has now been reached, clearing the way for Gatland to proceed with his May 6 squad announcement without any fears over player availability. 

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Mike Brown and Maggie Alphonsi guest on the latest RugbyPass Offload
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A Premiership Rugby statement read: “Premiership Rugby confirms that an agreement has been reached for the release of all players at the conclusion of their domestic commitments for the Lions’ warm-up game against Japan. They will also be available for any training camp ahead of that fixture.

“We know how much the Lions tour means to rugby fans and players and we wish the Lions every success. We are sure our players will make a huge contribution. Throughout the negotiations, Premiership Rugby has sought a solution that works for everyone – the players, the clubs and the Lions.



“This discussion was never just about money. Premiership clubs are at the very heart of English rugby – helping to nurture the pipeline of talent which supports the international game and future Lions tours. It is essential that we are properly consulted – and our position respected – when fixtures are scheduled which impact the domestic season.

“The Lions warm-up match against Japan falls outside of the World Rugby regulation nine window for release of players for international rugby, which is in breach of what was agreed in San Francisco in 2017. The Japan game also clashes with the highlight of our season, the Premiership final.

“For future Lions tours, Premiership Rugby will not release players until after the Premiership final. We will continue to honour our commitments around player-release under regulation nine and encourage all parties in rugby to work more closely to avoid situations like this happening in the future.”



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