Gatland warning to France-based stars
September 4, 2012
The likes of Gethin Jenkins may miss out on selection for the Lions tour due to a fixture clash © Getty Images
New British & Irish Lions boss Warren Gatland has admitted that players plying their trade in the Top 14 Orange may miss out on selection for their tour of Australia due to a potential fixture clash.
The Lions open their 2013 tour against the Barbarians on June 1 - the same day as the Top 14 final. There are currently a batch of potential Lions players turning out in the Top 14 and they may be involved in that final and in doing so may jeopardise their hopes of selection for the elite tourists.
Toulon, who boast the likes of Gethin Jenkins, Andrew Sheridan, Delon Armitage, Simon Shaw and Jonny Wilkinson in their ranks, have started the season well with three wins from three having been beaten finalists last season.
In addition, Wales internationals and former Lions Mike Phillips, James Hook and Lee Byrne are also plying their trade across the Channel for Bayonne, Perpignan and Clermont Auvergne respectively and Gatland has conceded that he may be forced to look elsewhere if they opt to see the season out with the French employers rather than journeying with the Lions.
"I'm actually going down to France tomorrow to talk to some players who are down there and watch Perpignan and Bayonne," Gatland told the media at his official unveiling. "So it's a chance to meet with some of the coaches down there and talk about potential release of those players for the Lions.
"But ultimately it may be up to the players. If you remember back to 2009 Nathan Hines left Perpignan before a final because the Lions meant so much to him as a player. He got on a plane and said 'bugger playing in a French club final, I want to be part of the Lions tour'.
"It's something that as a management board and as a coaching staff we are going to have to discuss because the preparation is so tight. And if it means that some players aren't available to get on the plane then that may potentially rule them out.
"You don't want to cut your nose off to spite your face in terms of making those players unavailable if they're really, really important for you. But I'm also really, really conscious that you want the whole squad together. You don't want people coming out late on a Lions tour - you want them in right from the start.
"If it means us having to make a really, really tough call because someone's not available because they made a decision to go to France, we might have to make that call because it might be the best thing for the squad. At the end of the day, it's all about what's best for the team.
"We're not going to make a hard and fast rule, but we are capable of making tough decisions if that's right for the squad."
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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