The time has come for another demonstration of player power to avert the threat of injustice over Lions selection.
Warren Gatland revealed last week that a dispute with the English Premiership clubs about player release means he may avoid picking many of their players for the trip to South Africa this summer.
Absurdly, Premiership officials have not yet agreed to even let those players whose club campaigns are finished join up with the Lions for a pre-tour training camp in Jersey — and the policy would also cover the Saracens contingent in the Championship.
Warren Gatland may avoid choosing Premiership players due to a dispute with their clubs
This pathetic stand-off is nothing more than a money-grabbing exercise and highlights how rugby is endlessly undermined by small-minded self-interest. The game’s governance is a shameful joke.
It is taking so much just to make a tour happen in these Covid-disrupted times, so the fact that another squabble like this is rumbling on, two-and-a-half weeks before Gatland names his tour squad, beggars belief.
The Premiership managed to play a series of midweek matches last season to complete the fixture programme and appease their broadcast partner and sponsors, but they can’t trim one week off this campaign to help the endangered Lions.
In 2017, at the end of an epic, drawn series against the All Blacks, tour manager John Spencer raised the alarm about Premiership players being left out of future squads because of their league’s stance.
England and Saracens captain Owen Farrell could miss out on the Lions tour this year
He said: ‘We have talked about this for eight years. It is exactly the same problems cropping up every time.’
Nothing has changed since Spencer’s impassioned plea, other than the reduction of tours from 10 games to eight.
So Gatland was right to highlight this petty money-grab and how it could impact the ambitions of English players, as well as a handful of leading Scots and Welshmen in the Premiership.
Looking through the league, he might only regard Tom Curry, Taulupe Faletau and Stuart Hogg as key men he cannot afford to travel without.
Owen Farrell and Maro Itoje of Saracens are also in that category. The rest are all vying with pedigree rivals from the Pro 14.
Saracens star Maro Itoje would be a key member of the Lions squad if he is selected
For players, the Lions remains a glorious career pinnacle they all wish to reach. So, those endangered by the row should stand together in declaring that they are available and if picked on merit, they will travel to Jersey — unless they are involved in the Premiership final.
If they are united, they have nothing to fear. The clubs can’t start sacking their leading lights for daring to train with the Lions.
Player power forced the authorities to significantly alter the World Cup fixture schedule, so it can force the hand of the small-minded, shadowy figures who purport to act on their behalf.
Wasps collapse at Exeter
Lee Blackett will be alarmed by the manner of Wasps’ latest defeat, as they collapsed in the final half-hour at Exeter — leaking three tries in the last 11 minutes.
The visitors’ composure left them, with too many wild passes and avoidable errors. The fairytale revival in the second half of the 2019-20 campaign has given way to a period of upheaval.
Defence coach Ian Costello is leaving to become Munster’s academy manager and attack coach Martin Gleeson is reportedly a target for Eddie Jones to join the England set-up.
Wasps head coach Lee Blackett will be alarmed at the nature of his side’s defeat to Exeter
Blackett and Wasps have a vast array of talent but they need to re-group fast. They are ninth in the table, just six months after nearly winning the title. That is an uncomfortable decline.
Suspicion over new Rugby franchises
World Rugby and authorities from the southern hemisphere need to provide clarity about the creation of two new Super Rugby franchises from the Pacific Islands.
This project is being part-funded by the global governing body, so they need to ensure it is not hijacked. There are no concerns about the Fijian Drua team, due to be based in Fiji with a squad of players from the country.
But officials in Samoa and Tonga — as well as leading Polynesian players — are worried about a lack of detail relating to the Moana Pasifika franchise, with growing suspicions that it will be based in New Zealand and serve as another development tool for the All Blacks.
Samoa and Tonga fear that plans for two new rugby franchises will only serve the All Blacks
If World Rugby wish to promote growth in the region, they must guarantee it benefits all the Pacific Islands. Moana Pasifika should host matches in Apia and Nuku’alofa, where investment in facilities has made this viable. The team should also consist of Samoan and Tongan players to be true to its lauded mission statement.
Top solo try
Bristol full back Max Malins took the ball near halfway at Kingston Park, burst clear down the right and left Tom Penny in a spin as he dummied to pass but instead swerved inside to score.
Max Malins scored a stunning, individual try against Newcastle Falcons on Saturday
Luke Cowan-Dickie was outstanding for Exeter — and direct. He stormed through the Wasps half early on, thought about a shimmy or an offload but settled for bumping off Jacob Umaga.
Sale’s director of rugby Alex Sanderson hailed Tom Curry latest tour de force, saying: ‘He plays like two or three men. You have an advantage if you have him on the pitch.’
Sale star Tom Curry (right) plays as effectively as two or three men according Alex Sanderson
France defeated Ireland 56-15 in Dublin in the Women’s Six Nations, to set up a predictable final against England. The thrashing once again emphasised the gulf between the top two and the rest.
Exeter full back Stuart Hogg was charged down for Josh Bassett’s try, but recovered well and capped a fine display with a long spiral kick, spirited chase and controlled footwork to score his second of the day.
CHRIS FOY’S TEAM OF THE WEEK
15 S Hogg (Exeter) 14 O Sleightholme (Northampton)
2 L Cowan-Dickie (Exeter) 13 F Dingwall (Northampton)
3 W Louw (Harlequins) 12 A Esterhuizen (Harlequins)
4 J Hill (Exeter) 11 W Muir (Bath)
5 C Vui (Bristol) 10 M Smith (Harlequins)
6 T Curry (Sale) 9 A Mitchell (Northampton)
8 Z Mercer (Bath) 1 E Genge (Leicester)
7 B Earl (Bristol)