By Alan Dymock
CAUGHT BETWEEN the Devil and a deep red rage, Nathan Hines angered the people of Perpignan in 2009 by skipping the Top 14 final in order to travel to South Africa with the British and Irish Lions.
That year Perpignan triumphed without the oversized lock, besting Clermont Auvergne, Hines current club, 22-13. Hop on a four-year cycle, though, and old ‘Wagga’ may be faced with the same rock and a hard place choice once again, with Clermont currently occupying a play-off place in the French top division.
Warren Gatland said in March: “If there are any French players involved when it comes to selection, we might need to have conversations. But ideally we all want to be on the plane to Australia together. If not, you don’t want players arriving a day or two before we play our first game in Australia against Western Force.”
If the will of the nations had any influence, it appears Gatland would hold more conversations than One Direction’s hotline.
As it stands there are six sides still capable of snatching Top 14 playoff places, with Toulon and Clermont almost certain to keep first and second place, with Toulouse in third, Castres, Racing Metro and Montpellier are all still able to lay claim the last spot.
Realistically there are no capable parties in Castres and Toulouse have no British or Irish candidates, while it would be a stretch to suggest that Racing Metro’s Olly Barkley is in the mix.
However, in Toulon, Clermont and Montpellier, there may be a few players with a packed bag by the front door and Spencer Davis Group smah Keep on Running on repeat as they contemplate fleeing France for the sake of the Tour.
After a controlled and clinical performance that saw Toulon past Leicester Tigers in the quarters of the Heineken Cup, Jonny Wilkinson was asked about the Lions. If you squint hard enough at the words you could say he was not ruling anything out, but in a Cantona-esque retort Wilkinson replied: “As far as I’m concerned, I’m like the guy in the armchair, wishing I could be on the Lions tour. But there’s no need for me to be there with these guys around.”
Around him are other guys who may not be so fond of leather upholstery, or as lucky to say they have toured before. Andrew Sheridan has been and may want to win a French title, but his French support act Gethin Jenkins maybe tempted to cut and run having never truly gelled with Mourad Boudjellal’s band of brothers. The Armitage brothers Steffon and Delon are slightly harder to predict, but one can never tell whether they would be asked and whether they would jump. Mr Tickle-armed Nick Kennedy would be seen as a stretch in both senses.
At Clermont Mister Hines may start getting a bit edgy. With his previous track record those in the Clermont Ferrand region may be getting twitchy. Would he miss a final to play the Baabaas in Hong Kong on the same day as the final?
Here a discussion could be had. For teammate Lee Byrne it is unlikely he would be privy to the discussion, but he has enjoyed his time in France more than some of his acquaintances have.
In Montpellier, Scotland’s Johnnie Beattie faces a battle getting to the final, particularly after the manner of Clermont’s dismantling of them in the Heineken quarter-final, but were they to do so and with Beattie an influential player, it is hard to see how talks would pan out. Hypothetical conversations, all, but for the Clouseau’s among us, intriguing, nonetheless.