Gatland 'relieved' that Premiership players will be released for Lions training camp

WARREN GATLAND says an agreement allowing the early release of Premiership players for British and Irish Lions duty came as a ‘massive boost’, as he looks to bring the large majority of his squad to Jersey in June.

Warren Gatland from the British and Irish Lions at the Elizabeth Marina and Radisson..Picture: DAVID FERGUSON. (30742047)
Warren Gatland from the British and Irish Lions at the Elizabeth Marina and Radisson..Picture: DAVID FERGUSON. (30742047)

The New Zealander, who arrived back in the Island with members of his coaching staff on Wednesday, intends to bring up to 80 players and staff over on 14 June for a ten-day training camp, although until as late as Tuesday he had concerns that none of those plying their trade in the top tier of English rugby would be eligible to join.

Traditionally, Premiership players cannot be released for Test duty until the conclusion of the domestic season, even if their club is not involved in the title play-offs. The 2020/21 Premiership final takes place on Saturday 26 June, by which time the squad will have left Jersey to play Japan in a pre-tour friendly at Murrayfield.

However, Premiership Rugby have permitted the release of players before the final, once their club duties have concluded.

Gatland and his assistants held their ‘second last’ squad selection meeting in the Island, before he names his men for the 2021 series in South Africa on 6 May.

‘It’s a bit of a relief,’ said Gatland, who had warned that Premiership players not able to travel to Jersey might miss out on tour selection.

‘It is a huge challenge trying to put a group together from four different nations. You’re trying to play a warm-up game against Japan, then get on a plane [to South Africa] and play the following week, so having those players available to us for the couple of weeks in Jersey makes a massive difference.

‘It’s a massive boost to me.’

Discussing the focus of his latest visit – his third since first travelling to assess the Island’s facilities in February – Gatland added: ‘It’s a planning opportunity for us, going through our schedule here and in South Africa and looking at our structures, our calling, our moves and the kind of language we’re going to be using. The chance to come here and get a group of people together in an environment that’s pretty much open was a tick in the box.’

Full story in Thursday's JEP.

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