The Lions and Premiership clubs remain at daggers drawn over player release for a pre-tour camp with a key meeting set for next week.
Warren Gatland’s bombshell declaration that English-based players may miss out on the South Africa trip if they are not made available for a Channel Islands camp in mid-June has annoyed clubs.
Sources have indicated that Gatland’s public intervention has not helped ease tension, and players feel they are now caught in the cross-hairs of yet another club-v-country row.
Lions head coach Warren Gatland has issued a warning to Premiership players
The Lions and clubs held a constructive meeting on Tuesday, with the Rugby Players’ Association brokering talks, and will come together again next week trying find a solution.
With no agreement yet, there are fears that financial offer from the Lions to the clubs for players’ release, for a Jersey camp on June 13 leading into the Lions’ Murrayfield match against Japan may not be enough to convince some.
Those clubs that do not make the playoffs will see their seasons end on June 12 so the Lions are perplexed as to why players could not join up then.
The fee each club received for the 2017 tour per player was £65,000, which covered release and insurance, and each individual tourist received the same amount for the New Zealand crusade.
Preparations for the tour are being undermined by a lack of clarity on player release
Equivalent agreements for this trip are yet to be signed and if this saga rumbles on, the Lions could have to fork out further, in a year where they will likely lose money, if clubs stick to their guns.
Exeter boss Rob Baxter accused Gatland of being ‘a little bit disingenuous’ over his veiled threat.
‘I don’t for one second think that Warren Gatland won’t take an important player to him because they’ve missed a week’s training, or a warm-up game,’ he said.
‘Will it be an excuse to leave out a fringe player? Possibly.
‘For the Lions to turn round and say ‘this is the scenario’ is a little bit disingenuous as they’ve known our schedule for a long time.
Exeter boss Rob Baxter does not believe Gatland would not take an ‘important’ player
‘I will tell my players they’ll get themselves on a tour if they play well.’
Bath’s Stuart Hooper added: ‘As romantic and as much as everyone loves the Lions, there’s also a professional agreement here and it’s done for a reason,’ he said.
‘We have to protect ourselves, but we’re obviously open to conversations.’
Meanwhile Jack Nowell is now fit to make his Lions case with Exeter, and as revealed by Sportsmail on Wednesday, Ireland wing Simon Zebo is to re-join Munster from French club Racing 92 this summer.