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French clubs may be forced to release players for Lions tour

Warren Gatland will be seeking to invoke an IRB regulation that states the quadrennial event begins on 1 June.

Image: Barry Aldworth/Sports Inc/Press Association Images

WARREN GATLAND’S QUEST to have the strongest possible Lions squad assembled in time for the beginning of the five-week tour to Hong Kong and Australia has been given a rule-book boost.

Gatland, who coached Wales to Six Nations success earlier this year, is adamant that he will retain the services of any British or Irish players operating in France by the time the squad fly out to Hong Kong in late May, 2013.

Welsh players such as Gethin Jenkins and Mike Phillips are playing in the Top 14 this season, as well as English stars such as Jonny Wilkinson and Delon Armitage.

The Top 14 Final is scheduled for 1 June – the same day that the Lions are due to play the Barbarians in Hong Kong.

However, an IRB regulation has given Gatland, and the British and Irish Lions Committee, reason to hope for a breakthrough. The regulation reads:

The quadrennial British and Irish Lions Tour is a Designated Event and all Players selected to participate shall be released. The Release Period shall ordinarily commence on 1 June and ordinarily conclude on the second weekend of July in the relevant year.

The wording may aid in Gatland’s attempts to secure release for potential Lions but it has not swayed the opinion of Toulon coach Bernard Laporte.

“The former French international coach told L’Equipe, “We said again that we would not release (Gethin) to leave with the Lions on 27 May if we are in the final. He understood. I think he already knew when he came to the meeting.”

For his part, Jenkins told Wales Online that there were many permutations that might occur to render the current debate defunct. However, he added:

Toulon are my employers, but one of the things I said when I signed was that continuing to play international rugby was very important to me. So they know that.

“I don’t think they would want me to be unhappy.”

You wouldn’t like to see Gethin Jenkins unhappy.

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Patrick McCarry

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