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Warren Gatland prepared to omit French-based players from Lions squad

Updated: Wednesday, 05 Sep 2012 18:01 | Comments

Warren Gatland will talk to French-based players like Gethin Jenkins (above)
Warren Gatland will talk to French-based players like Gethin Jenkins (above)

Warren Gatland will be prepared to omit France-based players from the 2013 British and Irish Lions squad if they cannot secure release from club duties to make the plane.

The French Top 14 final is on 1 June - the same day as the Lions play the first match of their 125th anniversary tour against the Barbarians in Hong Kong.

The Lions are determined that the whole squad will depart on tour together on 27 May - and if a potentially key player like Mike Phillips or Gethin Jenkins cannot make that date then so be it.

Gatland heads to France today to meet the players and discuss their availability with their respective Top 14 clubs.

"I'm going down to France and will talk to players down there," he said.

"Gethin's one of the players I'm going to see. I'm going to talk to [Toulon coach] Bernard Laporte, give him the programme and talk about potential release.

"I'm going to watch Perpignan and Bayonne, so it's a chance to talk to players.

"You don't want to cut your nose off to spite your face in terms of making those players unavailable if they're really, really important for you.

"At the end of the day, it's all about what's best for the team" - Warren Gatland

"But I'm also really, really conscious that you want the whole squad together. You don't want people coming out late on a Lions tour - you want them in right from the start.

"If it means us having to make a really, really tough call because someone's not available because they made a decision to go to France, we might have to make that call because it might be the best thing for the squad.

"At the end of the day, it's all about what's best for the team.

"We're not going to make a hard and fast rule, but we are capable of making tough decisions if that's right for the squad."

Gatland held up the example of Scotland lock Nathan Hines, who left Perpignan before their 2009 Top 14 final in order to make the Lions tour of South Africa.

"Ultimately it may be up to the players," Gatland said.

"In 2009, Nathan Hines left Perpignan before a final because the Lions meant so much to him as a player.

"He said 'stuff playing in French club final - I want to be part of a Lions tour'.

"As a management board and coaching staff, we will have to discuss that because preparation is so tight.

"If it means players aren't available to get on the plane, it may rule them out."

The Lions will head off on tour just two days after the Aviva Premiership and RaboDirect PRO12 finals.

Gatland will bring those players not in finals action into camp early to begin preparations but he is resigned to being without half his squad until 24 hours before departure.

The Lions will be chasing their first Test series win in 16 years when they embark on a 10-match tour, which culminates in a three-Test series against Australia.

Gatland, who plans to take a small squad of no more than 35, will confirm his coaching staff for the tour in October, before the autumn internationals begin.

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