Wednesday 19 June 2019

Future Lions tests could happen without English players, Tour manager warns

Could we see future Lions tours without English players like Owen Farrell?
Could we see future Lions tours without English players like Owen Farrell?

Nick Purewal

John Spencer has warned that future British and Irish Lions tours could happen without any England players if Premiership clubs do not help solve scheduling problems.

The 2017 Lions tour manager has questioned English club body Premiership Rugby, after Warren Gatland's men forced a 15-15 final Test draw to leave the series a one-all tie.

World Rugby and the majority of northern hemisphere club bodies want future Lions tours reduced to eight games, to complete the jigsaw puzzle of the global calendar post the 2019 World Cup.

Spencer has claimed the Lions were excluded from World Rugby's summit meeting in San Francisco in January that laid down the framework for the newly-aligned global schedule.

Asked if he could envisage a day when the Lions could threaten to tour without England players, Spencer said: "Yes I can. I would dread the day when it became divisive like that.

"We have in our VIP party a couple of (Premiership club) owners, David Morgan and Derek Richardson. These guys understand the Lions.

"I wouldn't like it to be divisive like that, no.

"All it needs is a few sensible heads to sit around a table and talk about it and I am sure there are people in the Premiership who understand the Lions and who want it to succeed, just as they want their own countries to succeed.

"But we have to sit down and talk about it pretty quickly.

I would be happy to meet the clubs and I am sure John Feehan would as the chief executive to sit down and have the opportunity to sit down and talk about it.

"We have been told that World Rugby have had a meeting, that the Premiership was represented at that meeting in San Francisco and what I want to know is 'who was representing the Lions?'

"Because John Feehan wasn't invited and I certainly wasn't invited. Who was representing the Lions' interest when this agreement was made? The answer is I don't know."

Owen Farrell's four penalties and a long-range strike from Elliot Daly ensured the Lions capped their gruelling New Zealand tour with a share of the Test series spoils.

The Lions jetted out to New Zealand just two days after the Premiership and PRO12 finals, and played their first tour match three days after arriving.

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Spencer now admits the "madness" of jet-lagged players labouring to that 13-7 win over the Provincial Barbarians in Whangarei - and called on rugby's global administrators to help avoid a repeat.

"Player welfare: no coach in any of our countries at any level would have accepted that starting schedule that we had from the final Saturday through to our playing the next week," said Spencer.

"Just madness as far as player welfare is concerned but if you are also using those first few games to prepare for a Test, it is not a proper preparation. We just cannot let that happen on a future Lions tour.

"It's a conversation we have got to have, obviously. But I will be making very strong suggestions, perhaps demands even, that that doesn't happen in the future. You know we are putting the players at risk.

"What would happen if we had a serious injury in the first two matches and guys were tired and not on the ball?

"There are all sorts of difficulties that could have been caused, but thankfully no-one was injured in those matches.

How often in rugby do we negotiate on principle and settle on cash. It happens a lot. But I am going to make it very clear, and I feel very strongly about it, that the Lions tour is being eaten up at every corner, and this cannot be allowed to happen.

"To let it fade away just for political reasons would be madness to me: it would be suicide.

"So, we have to sit down and have some serious conversations with provinces, clubs and unions, and we have to manage this. It is far too valuable to lose it, and surely once every four years we could be given an extra couple of weeks. That couple of weeks could be here, but equally it could be at home where we are not jet-lagged and can train properly.

"Fixtures being arranged in mid-week at home has happened before. I feel very strongly about it."

Spencer insisted no agreement on future Lions tour schedules has yet been agreed.

"No it isn't; we haven't discussed any agreement at all in Lions board meetings," said Spencer.

"We've never discussed the new agreement, we're just waiting until this tour is over.

"That conversation is still outstanding."

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