Opinion | Warren Gatland will pick Premiership players for the British and Irish Lions – he just doesn’t want to pay for them

It’s an arm wrestle between the clubs and Warren Gatland. They are looking each other in the eye and waiting to see who will blink first. 

The Kiwi has said that a block on players from all Premiership clubs, until the competition’s final on June 26, could impact up to 20 selection spots for this summer’s Lions tour to South Africa.

The head coach said that if there was a 50-50 call then he might be forced to think that “he’s based in England so unfortunately, he’s not going to be available to us.”

Why would he say this? Well it’s simple: he doesn’t want to pay for them. 

It’s not because he won’t pick them. As a coach he’ll want the best players to travel down to South Africa to take on the reigning champions. It’s just a game of poker between the Lions and the Premiership owners over players being released for the tour. 

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Players who are based in England and play in the Premiership are contracted to play for their clubs, unlike the dual contracts between club and nation that Wales, Scotland and Ireland have. There are international periods in which the Premiership players are released to play for their countries but the Lions want the players for a two-week training camp outside of the international period which doesn’t start until June 26.  

If the Lions want early access to the players then there is a way that they can get them and that is to cough up some wonga and pay the clubs for early access to their assets. 

This is arguably why Gatland is playing these sly games in the press, because he’s brokering a deal to get away with paying the clubs less for the players. 

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Don’t be angry at Premiership clubs for asking for money. The clubs spend a lot of cash on their players, especially those who are good enough to go on a Lions tour. If someone else wants their time in the period that they are contractually paid for to be at the club, then the Lions should compensate the teams that they are plucking their talent from. 

Yes, the clubs will want their players to go and play for the Lions. It is great for them to say that they have some of the best players in the world who are representing the club on the highest level. This is why a deal will be done because both parties want the same thing: the best players playing in South Africa. 

All they want is some remuneration for the players that they are paying fat wages for. Rightly so! 

Without the owners of clubs spending their children’s inheritance, we wouldn’t have the sport we all love. They have been hit hard by covid this year and can’t afford to just dish out their valuable players without a care in the world. 

The two parties will find a compromise. Gatland doesn’t mean what he says. The owners should call his bluff and test his nerve. Common sense must prevail.

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