Lions reach deal with Premiership clubs over access to players for pre-tour camp
Launchbury ruled out of contention for tour following serious cruciate ligament injury
Warren Gatland: had warned that players based in England were at risk of missing out on the tour if their clubs refused to release them for what he sees as vital preparation for the trip to South Africa. Photograph: David Davies/PA
Warren Gatland will be able to call on players based in England for the British & Irish Lions warm-up camp in Jersey and pre-tour Test against Japan after an agreement was reached with the Premiership clubs.
The news was announced just moments after it was revealed that Joe Launchbury has been ruled out of contention for the tour after Wasps confirmed he sustained “a complete rupture” of his anterior cruciate ligament during the victory against Bath on Sunday.
Gatland had warned that players based in England were at risk of missing out on the tour if their clubs refused to release them for what he sees as vital preparation for the trip to South Africa, even if their domestic seasons were finished. Premiership Rugby has confirmed, however, a deal has been struck just nine days before the Lions squad is named.
It is a significant boost for Gatland and the Lions, who are thought to have offered around £45,000 per player in compensation to the clubs.
Premiership Rugby has insisted the negotiations were “never just about money” and it is understood there has been great frustration among the clubs that the Lions arranged their pre-tour Test against Japan for June 26th– the same day as the Premiership final.
As a result, the agreement stipulates that “for future Lions tours, Premiership Rugby will not release players until after the Premiership final”.
In the short term, however, Gatland will be delighted that England players as well as those from Scotland and Wales such as Louis Rees-Zammit of Gloucester will be available for the 10-day camp in Jersey and the Japan Test, assuming their clubs do not reach the Premiership playoffs.
The Jersey camp begins on the same week as the Premiership semi-finals so players involved will still not be available but following the agreement the outlook is considerably better for Gatland.
In a statement PRL said: “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.
“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 9 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 9, and encourage all parties in rugby to work more closely to avoid situations like this happening in the future.”
The Lions chairman, Jason Leonard, said: “We are very grateful to Premiership Rugby and Pro14 for the release of players after they have concluded their domestic commitments. In particular we would like to thank [PRL’s rugby director] Phil Winstanley for his diligence in helping us reach an agreement.”
Meanwhile, the news of Launchbury’s serious ligament injury will come as a bitter blow to a player who has been overlooked for the previous two Lions tours and was thought to be in contention for the trip to South Africa this summer despite missing the Six Nations with a broken leg. Launchbury will require surgery and faces being out of action for at least six months.