Warren Gatland likens dealing with English clubs to Brexit negotiations
Where would rugby be without a little strife over releasing players for Test matches and tours?
Warren Gatland believes his British & Irish Lions squad to tour South Africa, next summer, could be made up with between 30 and 50% of England internationals. However, a fixture clash with the Lions' first game could scupper the chances of several English players.
Back in March and April, while people were going for 5k challenges and baking banana bread, there was an optimistic sense that a global rugby calendar could be agreed upon that would sort out club vs. country wrangles and be in the best interest of our flogged professional players.
Fast forward to today and we had Gatland comparing English Premiership clubs like politicians haggling and blustering over Brexit. The dream was sweet, while it lasted.
The Kiwi will take charge of the Lions when they travel to South Africa to take on the world champions in a three-Test series. However, before the Lions go long-distance, there is a warm-up match slated again Japan in Murrayfield in late June.
The issue? Premiership clubs have banded together to state they will not be releasing players for such a fixture as it falls outside the agreed Test window.
At the launch of the British & Irish Lions Pro jersey, designed by Canterbury, Gatland spoke about how not having several top English players could massively damage his preparations.
"I can tell you 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 selections,"
"You end up with a 50/50 call on a player, and a player who is able to be there for a week's camp in Wales and a week's preparation for the Japan game might get the nod against someone who has unfortunately not been available until only one week before the first match in South Africa.
"It's a challenge at the moment and I just hope that some common sense will prevail in negotiations. I fully understand with the Premiership final and players not being available because they are tied up with that, but I would love to see other players being released for the Lions. I just hope we can come to some agreement where we do have access to the players."
Talk of possibly coming down against English players in the 50/50 calls would be music to the ears of many Irish, Welsh and Scottish supporters. Should the Guinness PRO14 season go off without any major Covid-related complications, they should all be available for that June 26 Lions vs. Japan game.
Asked about the possibility of negotiating with the Premiership clubs for the early release of players, Gatland remarked, "They haven't always been the easiest to deal with! They have their own ways of doing things.
"At the moment nothing is set in stone, they have come out and made a statement. It's a little bit like Brexit, isn't it? It's a bit of a game in terms of whether we end up with a deal that is satisfactory for all. That's what I'm hoping, I don't think it's worth firing shots at each other and hopefully we can come to some agreement."
Gatland named 17 English players in his 2017 squad for the tour to New Zealand. With the tour reduced from 10 to eight games, including the Test Series, he may select a smaller squad of 36 or 37 players, whilst naming a stand-by squad that could reach double figures.