2013 British & Irish Lions
Gatland offers lifeline to France-based players
November 1, 2012
The Lions selection door may still be open for Toulon's Steffon Armitage and other France-based players © Getty Images
British & Irish Lions boss Warren Gatland has revealed he is prepared to consider those players based in France whose sides may still be competing for the Top 14 title when the squad departs for Australia next year.
Gatland had originally hinted that he was only prepared to consider those players who would be able to fly out with the rest of the squad on May 27, two days after the Aviva Premiership and RaboDirect PRO12 finals, but he now appears to have left the door open to those who may be in action in the French title decider on June 1 - the date of the Lions' first tour game against the Barbarians in Hong Kong.
The Lions have already expressed their willingness to look beyond the Test match stage and the Premiership and PRO12 competitions for a squad capable of claiming a first series triumph over the Wallabies since 1989 and the impressive form of the likes of Toulon's Jonny Wilkinson, Steffon Armitage and Andrew Sheridan, who have propelled their side to the top of the league, has clearly cut the eye of Gatland.
"There are a number of players in Toulon who are playing well and putting their hands up," Gatland told The Daily Telegraph. "I have said all along that my preference is to have everyone on the plane going together.
"When you have got the Premiership and PRO12 final basically the day before we fly out, there is a potential that the first time the squad will be together is on the night of our farewell dinner.
"That makes it difficult for preparation point of view and if you are going to potentially add some French players the week after that, it is not ideal. But that said, you have to be a little bit flexible, depending on injuries and form. I am not going to back myself into a corner and say 'this is my 100 per cent policy'."
"I think Delon is playing well and Andrew Sheridan is scrummaging well," Gatland added. "There are a few players there I have been impressed with. Steff's form has been good. France is a different culture and domestic form is important as well."
© ESPN EMEA Ltd
Toulon's Heineken Cup final victory over Clermont Auvergne may have ended a long title drought for the Top 14 club but two of their players are no strangers to success
We bring you our pick of the best pictures from around the world in the last seven days with the battle for Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup glory taking centre stage
"If you listen carefully you should be able to hear them mining the granite for the statue of a certain Jonny Wilkinson" Graham Jenkins reports from the Heineken Cup Final
Quade Cooper's defence is better than it was 12 months ago and Robbie Deans has erred in omitting him from the core Wallabies squad to play the Lions, Greg Growden writes