Lions to have access to Premiership players for pre-tour training and Japan Test

Duncan Bech, PA
·3-min read

The British and Irish Lions will have access to players from the Gallagher Premiership for their pre-South Africa training camp and Test against Japan after an agreement was reached that ends their stand-off.

But in coming to an arrangement, Premiership Rugby (PRL) has warned the Lions that for future tours it will not release players until after its Twickenham final.

Warren Gatland had said that stars from the English top flight faced the prospect of being overlooked for selection if they were unable to take part in the Jersey training camp and historic warm-up match against Japan at Murrayfield on June 26.

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“We don’t want to start looking at 50-50 calls on players and think ‘well, he’s based in England so unfortunately he’s not going to be available to us’,” said Gatland when naming his assistant coaches two weeks ago.

It was a concern not only for members of Eddie Jones’ squad, but also Scotland and Wales internationals such as Stuart Hogg, Dan Biggar, Jonny Gray and Taulupe Faletau who are competing in the Premiership.

But PRL has announced that players will be now be released once their club duties are over with the regular Premiership season ending on June 12 before the semi-finals and final are staged the following weekends.

Apart from the level of compensation to be paid by the Lions to the English clubs for players who will miss most of pre-season because of their touring commitments, the dispute was also grounded in the decision to stage a Japan fixture that falls outside the international window on the same day as the league’s Twickenham showpiece.

And while a deal has been struck, PRL insists it will adopt a more hard-line stance for future tours.

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“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,” a PRL statement read.

“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 the release of players for international rugby, which is in breach of what was agreed in San Francisco in 2017.

Wales fly-half Dan Biggar is one of several players who could have been affected by a refusal to grant release
Wales fly-half Dan Biggar is one of several players who could have been affected by a refusal to grant release (David Davies/PA)

“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.”

Gatland names his 36-man squad and captain on Thursday week, but a revised itinerary for South Africa made necessary by the coronavirus pandemic has yet to be published.

“I would like to thank Premiership Rugby, as well as PRO14, for their support in agreeing to release players for the Lions,” Gatland said.

“I have always said that preparation is key to a successful Lions tour, so this news is very welcome and something we are appreciative of.”