Exeter Chiefs coach Rob Baxter has described the British & Irish Lions’ stance on the release of English Premiership players as ‘disingenuous’ ahead of their eight-match tour of South Africa.
According to the Telegraph, Premiership Rugby has threatened to block the release of players for a B&I Lions training camp, which has led Warren Gatland to warn that he could leave England’s star players out of the tour.
Gatland’s threat to overlook England-based players over Premiership Rugby’s strict player-release policies, has since drawn fierce response from the English Premiership champions’ director of rugby who works closely with Lions contenders Stuart Hogg, Henry Slade, Jonny Gray and Sam Simmonds.
‘The Lions have known the Premiership schedule for a long time now – I think about a year – so they have known exactly what the scenario was, they’ve known there is no way of cutting that season short,’ Baxter said.
‘Everyone has known when the Premiership season is going to finish, so for the Lions to now turn around and say that this is a scenario is a little bit disingenuous, I think, because they have known our fixture list for a long time.
‘Secondly, I have got every confidence that Warren Gatland will pick the team that he feels will do the job for him because that’s the kind of coach he is.
‘I don’t think if there was a player playing in the Premiership final that Warren Gatland thinks is an important player in his squad that he will leave him out. I wouldn’t.
‘It is an unfortunate situation but, at the end of the day, it has not been created by the Premiership, so we have to get on with it.’
Baxter continued: ‘If I am Warren Gatland and I am sitting watching guys play outstandingly well in Premiership semi-finals and finals, do I decide I don’t want them to be part of the Lions tour because they have missed a week’s training?
‘So, the management I will take with our players is they will get themselves on the tour by playing well, and the better they play in the bigger games they play, the more chance they have got of being involved in anything.
‘I don’t for one second, despite whatever is going to be said, think that Warren Gatland will not take a player he deems to be important to him on that tour because they miss a week’s training or they miss a warm-up game.
‘It is not like the player will need game time because the players will be playing. If they think they are good players, they will be involved.’
Photo: Getty Images