British & Irish Lions 2013
Toulon: Club comes first over Lions
September 6, 2012
Nathan Hines turned his back on club side Perpignan to play for the Lions in 2009 © Getty Images
Toulon boss Bernard Laporte is adamant that they will not grant any of their players an early release for British & Irish Lions tour duty if they reach the Top 14 final.
The Lions play their first match of the 10 game tour against the Barbarians on June 1 in Hong Kong - the same day as the Top 14 final. Toulon are currently three from three in the 2012-13 season and after reaching the final last year but losing to Toulouse, they will hope to go one better this time around.
Lions coach Warren Gatland is currently in France and will take in games at Perpignan and Bayonne to see how the potential Lions James Hook, Luke Charteris and Mike Phillips are performing but he is also likely to address the issue of the potential fixture clash.
Toulon possesses a myriad of stars which include Gethin Jenkins, Andrew Sheridan, Delon Armitage, Steffon Armitage and Jonny Wilkinson. And Laporte is adamant that if they reach the Top 14 final then they will be on club duty and not in Hong Kong with the Lions.
"The international window begins on the weekend of June 9. Everything that happens before that is outside of the window," Laporte told L'Equipe. "As far as freeing up Gethin, in principle, it's a no. If he plays in the final, he will leave the day after, on Sunday June 2, but not before.
"We won't pay a player who has to go and play for the Lions at the most important time of our season. There is no specific clause in his contract about it."
Gatland said on Tuesday that he would want the entire squad to fly out ahead of their match with the Barbarians and cited the example of Nathan Hines from back in 2009 when he opted to journey with the Lions to South Africa rather than playing in the Top 14 title-decider. But reports suggest that Jenkins' loyalty at least would be with his club employers should he be forced to decide.
And the Lions coach conceded he may have to overlook players not available to travel that day, however important they may be. "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," Gatland said. "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."
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