Cardiff Blues coach and former Lion Dai Young has said he will rest his 2009 Lions prior to departure for South Africa, but only after the Blues have secured qualification for next season’s Heineken Cup.
Young saw Blues centre Tom Shanklin ruled out of the 10-match tour of the Republic after injuring his shoulder in the mid-week Magners League win over the Dragons.
With the Blues, Scarlets and Dragons all battling for the second and third Welsh qualifying spots for Europe’s premier domestic competition, the Arms Park encounter was a game Young’s side desperately needed to win.
Only three of the four Welsh regions are guaranteed a place in the 2009/10 Heineken Cup, with the fourth-placed Welsh side facing a nail-biting play off against an Italian team at a time when both the Lions and Welsh national squad will be on tour.
The three-times Lions tourist knows better than most the pride associated with representing the four Home Unions but he also admits that the Blues simply cannot afford to miss out on a place in the Heineken Cup draw, especially after their fine run to the last four this time around.
“We want the players on the Lions trip, that goes without saying, and we are extremely proud to have the number that we’ve got,” said Young, who toured with the Lions in 1989, 1997 and 2001.
“Hindsight is a great thing, but let’s be realistic about it. We’ve got a job to do. We’ve got to be in that Heineken Cup next season and every one of our Lions are 100-per-cent behind that.
“We’ve enjoyed our run in the competition this season and we’ve got to make sure we are in there next year. Financially it’s massive for the club to be in the Heineken Cup.
”It is difficult for everyone concerned and there are going to be bumps, but that’s what happens.
“With every Lions tour, people pick up bumps. There is no real way around it unless they say once they pick the squad nobody plays, which is nonsense really.”
Only Munster have contributed more players to the 2009 Lions squad than the Blues and Young insists the region are hugely proud of that achievement.
Although Shanklin will now miss the tour, Young is keen to give his five remaining Lions as much time off as possible once the Blues have cemented their Heineken Cup spot.
Leigh Halfpenny, Gethin Jenkins, Andy Powell, Jamie Roberts and Martyn Williams could all be rested after Sunday’s home clash with Munster if the Blues pick up more points against the Magners League winners than the Dragons can register from their match against Edinburgh tomorrow afternoon.
“Once we are there, I certainly won’t be even thinking about playing our Lions. I wouldn’t risk any injuries with them,” added Young.
“They will be in cotton wool. I have spoken to the players and told them once we are qualified I won’t be putting them out and they are totally behind that.
“There have been no fears from the players on the Lions tour that they don’t want to play because they want to be in the Heineken Cup next year as well.
“This is their bread and butter. It’s not a case of doing it for themselves or doing it for me or the supporters.
”They are doing it for everybody concerned and that’s important because their performances for the Blues have helped them gain Lions selection.”