Gatland going to France

New Lions coach Warren Gatland will head to France on Wednesday to chat to a number of potential tourists. [more]

Gatland going to France

New Lions coach Warren Gatland will head to France on Wednesday to chat to a number of potential tourists.

Gatland, who has been formally announced as the man to lead the Lions in Hong Kong and Australia in 2013, is travelling across the English Channel to meet a host of big names currently plying their trade in the Top 14 or the PRO D2.

The 2009 tour squad featured one player based in France in lock forward Nathan Hines, while the 2005 party that travelled to New Zealand included Stephen Jones of Clermont Auvergne and Gareth Thomas of Toulouse.

Hines gave up a French Championship Final appearance with Perpignan to join up on time with Sir Ian McGeechan’s men three years ago and Gatland admits some players may have some difficult decisions to make next spring.

Gatland, who was formally announced as the man to lead the Lions in Hong Kong and Australia in 2013 earlier today, is travelling across the English Channel to meet a host of big names currently plying their trade in the Top 14 or the PRO D2.

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The 2009 tour squad featured one player based in France in lock forward Nathan Hines, while the 2005 party that travelled to New Zealand included Stephen Jones of Clermont Auvergne and Gareth Thomas of Toulouse.

Hines gave up a French Championship Final appearance with Perpignan to join up on time with Sir Ian McGeechan’s men three years ago and Gatland admits some players may have some difficult decisions to make next spring.

“I’m going down to France and will talk to players down there,” said Gatland, when asked about the likelihood of foreign-based stars such as Gethin Jenkins being involved next summer.

“Gethin’s one of the players I’m going to see. I’m going to talk to (Toulon coach) Bernard Laporte, give him the programme and talk about potential release.

“I’m going to watch Perpignan and Bayonne, so it’s a chance to talk to players.

"Ultimately it may be up to the players. In 2009, Nathan Hines left Perpignan before a final because the Lions meant so much to him as a player.

“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. 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.”

So exactly who could be affected by the length of the French domestic competition which is due to end on June 1, the day the Lions kick off their tour against the Barbarians?

This season there are far more British and Irish players playing away from the Aviva Premiership and RaboDirect PRO12 than there were the last time the Lions came calling.

Here’s a potential matchday squad who could all feature for the Lions if form, fitness and availability all fit in in 2013.

Possible French-based Lions matchday squad

15 Lee Byrne (Clermont Auvergne)
14 Aled Brew (Biarritz)
13 Max Evans (Castres)
12 Delon Armitage (Toulon)
11 Iain Balshaw (Biarritz)
10 James Hook (Perpignan)
9 Mike Phillips (Bayonne)

1 Gethin Jenkins (Toulon)
2 Huw Bennett (Lyon)
3 Euan Murray (Agen)
4 Luke Charteris (Perpignan)
5 Nathan Hines (Clermont Auvergne)
6 Alasdair Strokosch (Perpignan)
7 Steffon Armitage (Toulon)
8 Johnnie Beattie (Montpellier)

Replacements

Andrew Sheridan (Toulon)
Simon Shaw (Toulon)
Scott Murray (Mont-de-Marsan)
Luke Narraway (Perpignan)
Mike Blair (Brive)
Jonny Wilkinson (Toulon)
Paul Sackey (Stade Francais)

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