THE BRITISH AND IRISH LIONS have managed to broker a deal with PRL – the umbrella group which represents the top clubs in England – for the release of players to prepare and play against Japan at Murrayfield on 26th June.
However, PRL has warned that they will not be as accommodating in future if Lions matches are scheduled outside the international window.
Head coach Warren Gatland explained earlier this month that a stand-off between the Lions and PRL could lead to all English-based players – including Scottish tour hopefuls such as Stuart Hogg, Jonny Gray, Chris Harris, Sean Maitland and Cameron Redpath – being prevented from joining the squad early, even if their own club season is over.
Now a compensation package – thought to be worth around £45,000 per player – has been agreed, although PRL insists that the issue is not just about money, with dissatisfaction that the Japan game has been scheduled on the same day (and therefore in competition with) the Premiership Final a cause of significant frustration.
Those players involved in the Premiership Final will not be released during the build-up to the Japan game.
“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,” said a Premiership spokesperson. “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.’
“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.”
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Gatland had warned that English-based players not being released early could have a detrimental effect on their chances of winning tight selection calls for the 36-man tour squad which will be named next Thursday.
From a Scottish perspective, there is a good chance that Hogg and Gray will be on club duty until after the Premiership Final, but this deal could boost the chances for the likes of Harris, Maitland and Redpath making the cut.
On the flip side, it could work against the likes of Hamish Watson, Jamie Ritchie, Duhan van Der Merwe, Rory Sutherland (if fit), Zander Fagerson and Fraser Brown as they compete against English-based players for selection to the tour.