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'They haven't always been the easiest to deal with': Gatland fears Premiership threat could cost English-based players Lions places

By Liam Heagney

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Lions coach Warren Gatland has described dealing with the English Premiership clubs about player release as being akin to the European Union negotiating with the UK Government over Brexit. The 2021 Lions tour will kick-off in South Africa on July 3 against the Stormers in Cape Town.


However, Gatland has organised a week’s training preparation in Wales and a matchweek versus Japan in Edinburgh that all Premiership club players will be unavailable for even if their teams are not involved in the June 26 league final at Twickenham.

Under World Rugby regulation nine, the Premiership clubs are within their rights to withhold its players. This not only would include the likes of say England international Kyle Sinckler at Bristol. They would also be able to prevent players such as Wales out-half Dan Biggar and Scotland full-back Stuart Hogg joining up respectively from Northampton and Exeter.

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It’s a tricky situation with the Premiership and Gatland has warned it could ultimately decide a 50/50 call against an English-based player who can’t hook up with the Lions for the two weeks prior to their departure for South Africa. He is hoping common sense can help an agreement to be reached regarding player availability.

Speaking over a Zoom call from New Zealand after the Lions launched their 2021 Canterbury tour jersey, Gatland said: “They [Premiership Rugby] haven’t always been the easiest to deal with. They have their own ways of doing things.

“Look, at the moment nothing is set in stone. They have come out and made a statement so it’s a little bit like Brexit, it’s a bit of a game where hopefully we can end up with a deal that is satisfactory for all. That is kind of what I am hoping.


“At the moment I don’t think it’s worth firing shots at each other and hopefully we can come to some agreement. Hopefully, the players association and the players might voice their opinion about what they think about that.

“That is a pretty powerful voice to be heard from the players and about their opportunities going on the Lions tour and having the best chance and the best preparation to go and tour. It’s a little bit frustrating at the moment but I’m just very hopeful that we can come together and make those players that aren’t available who are not playing in the final to have the best chance and the best preparation to put themselves in the shop window to go to South Africa and give themselves the best chance of playing potentially in the Test matches.

“Some negotiations that will go on between now and then. We just have to look at it. Potentially if England have a great Six Nations you could argue that a third to half of the squad could potentially be missing, not just for that Japan game but we’re planning a camp in Wales the week before. That would be disruptive.

“Given how limited the time is in preparation, we will be taking the best team we possibly can, the best players, but the hard reality of the situation is that I just hope it doesn’t impact on any players or any selections because you end up with a 50/50 call on a player and a player that is able to be there for the week’s camp in Wales and the week’s preparation for the Japan game might get the nod against someone who is unfortunately not available until only one week before the first match in South Africa.


“It’s a challenge at the moment and I just hope some common sense will prevail and some negotiations. I fully understand with the Premiership final players not being available because they are tied up with that, but I would love to see players being released for the Lions.

“We get full support from club coaches because they way I look at it is a player goes away on a Lions tour and it’s successful, the amount of interest it creates just outside the general rugby following from other supporters and other people from other sports, you potentially can come back as a superstar.

“Then you can promote that when you start the following season, come along and see your Lions players at your local club and generate more interest. I just hope we can come to some agreement where we do have access to the players.”

– Warren Gatland was speaking on behalf of Canterbury at the launch of the British and Irish Lions Pro jersey,  available at

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'They haven't always been the easiest to deal with': Gatland fears Premiership threat could cost English-based players Lions places