British and Irish Lions Managing director Ben Calveley hopes that Warren Gatland won't be without Premiership-based players for the Lions first 'home' test since 2005 when the invitational side take on Japan at Murrayfield on Saturday 26 June 2021.
The clash at Murrayfield clashes with the 2020/21 Premiership Final which is set to take place on the same as the Lions tour send-off against 2019 Rugby World Cup quarter-finalists.
The Premiership clubs are digging in their heels over the release of players for the game with Calveley issuing a plea to Premiership Rugby to play ball and release players for the test to create a “celebration of rugby” at the end of a desperate season.
Although just two Premiership clubs will be involved in the clash in Premiership final at Twickenham, it does fall outside of World Rugby’s international window, it does not count under Regulation 9 that forces clubs to release their players. Premiership Rugby have made it clear they have no plan to change tact and make the players available to Warren Gatland.
While this will mean that a number of England stars won't be available to the side, there will also be a number of other players from the likes of Scotland, Ireland and Wales unavailable too. The likes of Stuart Hogg, Dan Biggar, Tomas Francis and Taulupe Faletau are just a few of the names that could be unavailable to the Lions.
“Premiership Rugby have already announced a fixture list for next year and we don’t anticipate that changing, but we have been in dialogue with PRL for a long time about this match – for the best part of 12 months or so,” Calveley said.
“We have taken this match up to Scotland and we will be at a different kick-off time to the Premiership final and we absolutely accept that this is not a Regulation 9 fixture, so there is no obligation for the clubs to release any of their players.
“The position right now is that there is no sanctioning of English players to play in this fixture, but we would be keen to keep that dialogue open and we would be hopeful that that position might change. It is a wonderful opportunity for players, not just to play in that fixture but also to put their hand up and start to impress Warren and his coaching team in advance of the tour of South Africa.”
Calveley also revealed that the Saracens' players would also not be available under the current terms despite playing the in the Championship next season. However, he has not yet given up hope though that the Premiership could change their tune and release the players selected.
“We are open to continuing dialogue but at the moment, given this is a non-Regulation 9 fixture, we understand that and respect their position,” Calveley added. “But we would, of course, be hopeful those players not playing in the final would be available to play in this match, although that would require a change to the position as it currently stands.
“Whoever ends up putting on the Lions jersey, and that is down to Warren and his coaching team to select the players, we will have an exceptional group of players to take the field and it will be a wonderful match we will put on up in Murrayfield. My view is these two fixtures can co-exist and can work together to be something of a celebration of rugby at the end of what is an incredibly difficult time for the fans. They deserve to have a little something to get excited about, don’t they, and hopefully we can provide that for them.”
Calveley maintains a positive outlook that fans will be in the sold-out South African stadiums next summer, with the ticket-only ballot “oversubscribed incredibly heavily”. He said: “All of the numbers suggest that not only is the interest there, but people are intending to travel in their droves.
“There is a real determination within the South African authorities, public and rugby, to make sure that the tour can go ahead.”