English set to miss out on Lions tour to SA

The British and Irish Lions rugby union tour to South Africa could be headed for meltdown because the tour stands the chance of starting without many of the Lions English players. (I can hear the other nations now – who needs them anyway).

If the situation is not resolved then the English players could miss as much as the first three Lions matches which could seriously jepoardise their Test selection chances. Crisis talks are said to be underway.

According to the Telegraph,  the problem has come about because of the congested global calendar and the new agreement between the Rugby Football Union and Premiership clubs which starts on July the 1st this year.

If the previously leaked draw is correct then the Lions are due to play their first match of the tour against a Highveld XV in Rustenburg on May 30, 2009 which is the day before the Guinness Premiership play-off final.

The Chief executive of the Lions John Feehan has acknowledged the difficulties but refused to discuss them. He said: “We’re talking to all the relevant parties and we’ve no other comment to make.”

Feehan is thought to be in discussions with European Rugby Cup with a view to switching the play-off final with the final of the Heineken Cup, due to be played a week earlier.

The logic being that there is more chance of a French side making the Heineken Cup final, thereby reducing the pressure on the Lions party. However, a strong run by Munster, the Ospreys or the top English sides would invalidate such an initiative.

There is an additional problem in that under the new agreement Premiership players must take a five-day gap between games and the current schedule includes three midweek games in the first three weeks making it almost impossible to select English players.

“The Lions tour does throw up a problem around that specific clause,” admitted Damian Hopley, chief executive of the Players’ Association.

“We don’t want to restrict players’ ambition but we do want to promote their welfare. It’s a really difficult one.”




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