Irvine sounds warning to overseas stars
June 22, 2012
Mike Phillips' Lions place is under threat if he can't guarantee his complete availability © Getty Images
British & Irish Lions manager Andy Irvine has warned Wales' overseas stars that they are risking missing out on a place on the tour to Australia in 2013 by playing in France.
Gethin Jenkins, Mike Phillips and James Hook will all be turning out in the Top 14 Orange next season and Irvine has insisted that a player must be able to guarantee their availability for the entire tour if they are to be selected. The Lions start their tour in Hong Kong with a match against the Barbarians on June 1 which is also the date of the Top 14 final so if Jenkins' Toulon, Phillips' Bayonne or Hook's Perpignan make it that far, then they may not be selected.
The same also applies to Delon and Steffon Armitage and Jonny Wilkinson who are turning out for Toulon next term. "With any players who have signed for French clubs, we have tried to insist that they look at their contracts closely and see if they do have an opt-out clause," Irvine told Wales Online. "My understanding is that most of them do, but we will not be including anyone in the tour that is hoping to join at an after stage. We will not accept that.
"If someone were to be involved in the French finals, they would be ruling themselves out."
Jeremy Davidson was the last Lions player to be picked in the squad while playing for an overseas team - back in 2001 when he was lining up for Castres - but Irvine also has concerns over the Premiership and PRO12 fixtures. Both of their finals are scheduled for the last weekend in May which is just a few days before the match in Hong Kong.
"That is a concern obviously," said Irvine. "But we've just got to accept the schedule. There's nothing we can do about it, so we've just got to get on and manage it as best we can. The coaches will be looking at that very closely. They won't know which players will be involved, because it really depends on which clubs are successful towards the end of the season.
"But we know well in advance that there's a problem there and therefore the coaches will plan for it accordingly."
Wales boss Warren Gatland is still the clear favourite to lead the party but question marks surround his fitness after he fractured both his ankles after suffering a fall in New Zealand. Irvine admits it is a concern but is pleased with Gatland's recovery.
"We've been in discussions with Warren for some time," said Irvine. "We have got to do due diligence because if Warren was really in a bad way we would have to say 'I'm sorry, it's not going to be feasible.'
"But we have been in touch with Warren recently and he is making very good progress. It was a bad injury, of that there's no doubt, but he is recovering well, so we don't think it's going to be an issue.
"We have had big discussions with Warren and we are pretty comfortable where we are. I'm hopeful that we'll be able to make an announcement in a fairly short space of time."
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