AUSTRALIA are stepping up their planning for this summer's British and Irish Lions Tour, with Australian Rugby Union boss Bill Pulver prioritising victory in the three-Test series over the needs of the country's five Super Rugby franchises.
In a move that is sure to prove controversial in the provincial ranks, Pulver is planning to pull Wallabies players out of Super Rugby three weeks before the first Test against the Lions in Brisbane on June 22.
Although Pulver is yet to formalise an agreement with the five clubs, he all but confirmed Wallabies coach Robbie Deans will be given three full weeks to prepare his squad.
"Clearly Robbie's going to get all the support he needs in terms of getting that group together, ideally three weeks ahead of that first game," Pulver said at a press conference to mark the 100-day countdown to the Lions Tour at Sydney airport on Monday.
"I've got to get back and speak with the various Super Rugby franchises over the next couple of days but we'll be getting an announcement out imminently.
"I'm not sure that we'll get a consensus view ... clearly they want to have their players available for every Super Rugby game.
"But my priority is that Robbie has the right preparation in order to make sure we beat the Lions."
The proposed plan could potentially cost one or more Australian team a spot in the Super Rugby playoffs.
Asked if he would be willing to make exceptions to the rule if a franchise is facing a season-defining encounter, Pulver replied: "That's something that we would review at the time.
"It's really difficult to predict what the situation is going to be in Super Rugby at that stage so we will assess those on their merits at the time."
Deans, who has been on the other side of the argument as coach of the Crusaders, says it's imperative he's given as much time as possible to prepare his squad for the three-Test series.
"Obviously preparation is key, you've only got to listen to Rod Macqueen," he said.
Macqueen coached the side who beat the 2001 Lions despite a heavy 29-13 defeat in the first Test and Deans said: "We were fortunate enough that Rod came in and spoke to us yesterday and he spoke about the fact that their preparation for the first Test in 2001 was negligent essentially, it was insufficient and hence the outcome.
"They had three weeks plus a game, we won't be getting that much but we've got to make the most of what we get and we've got to make it work."
Deans has yet to decide between World Cup captain James Horwill and David Pocock as skipper for the Lions series, saying: "There's no point this far out because there's so many things that can change.
"But the good thing is we've got a number of blokes who have had leadership experience in recent times.