However, English clubs warn that they won’t do the same for future tours

Lions and Premiership reach agreement on player release

First the good news. The British & Irish Lions have reached an agreement with Premiership Rugby over the release of players based at English clubs.

The release row has been going on for months, with the Premiership unhappy with the scheduling of a pre-tour fixture between the Lions and Japan at BT Murrayfield on the same day as the Gallagher Premiership final, Saturday 26 June.

Lions coach Warren Gatland was concerned that England-based players who were not involved in the final – ie those whose season ended either on 12 June or after the semi-finals on 19-20 June – would not be available until after the league’s climax.

However, a deal has now been done, with a Premiership Rugby spokesperson saying: “An agreement has been reached for the release of all players at the conclusion of their domestic commitments for the Lions’ warm-up game against Japan. They will also be available for any training camp ahead of that fixture.”

Lions chairman Jason Leonard said: “We are very grateful to Premiership Rugby and PRO14 for the release of players after they have concluded their domestic commitments. In particular we would like to thank Phil Winstanley for his diligence in helping us reach an agreement.”

Warning over future Lions tours

Now for the bad news. While player release has been agreed for this tour, with the Lions paying English clubs a compensation fee, Premiership Rugby has warned that there will be no such deal for future tours, such as the next trip to Australia in 2025.

The Premiership Rugby spokesperson said: “This discussion was never just about money. Premiership clubs are at the very heart of English rugby – helping to nurture the pipeline of talent which supports the international game and future Lions Tours. It is essential that we are properly consulted – and our position respected – when fixtures are scheduled which impact the domestic season.

“The Lions warm-up match against Japan falls outside of the World Rugby Regulation 9 window for release of players for international rugby, which is in breach of what was agreed in San Francisco in 2017. The Japan game also clashes with the highlight of our season, the Premiership final.

“For future Lions tours, Premiership Rugby will not release players until after the Premiership final. We will continue to honour our commitments around player release, under Regulation 9, and encourage all parties in rugby to work more closely to avoid situations like this happening in the future.”

It was only a few weeks ago that Scotland had to pay a significant sum for the release of Premiership players for their rearranged Six Nations fixture against France and club-versus-country rows seem set to dominate the rugby landscape for some time yet.

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