Warren Gatland faces fight with clubs over French-based Lions players


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The Independent Online

The new Lions coach, Warren Gatland, will be in Catalonia tomorrow, not necessarily paying homage to Bernard Goutta and Christophe Deylaud, the coaches of Perpignan and Bayonne respectively, but being very nice to them all the same.

The two clubs, who meet in a Top 14 match at Stade Aime Giral, currently have a trio of leading Wales players on their books in James Hook, Luke Charteris and Mike Phillips.

Gatland is likely to be interested in all three ahead of next summer's British Isles tour of Australia and would like to confirm their availability immediately.

Gethin Jenkins, the first-choice Test prop on the last two Lions tours, is another Welshman earning big money in France and his employers, Toulon, have already made it crystal clear where they expect his loyalty to lie – along with the loyalties of the rest of their overseas contingent, which includes England internationals Delon and Steffon Armitage, Jonny Wilkinson and Simon Shaw.

Toulon are early favourites to reach the business end of the Top 14 competition and with the grand final clashing directly with the opening Lions match in Hong Kong on the first day of June, there may well be trouble ahead.

"As the international window begins on 9 June, everything that happens before it is outside the window," said the Toulon sporting director Bernard Laporte. "As far as freeing up Gethin is concerned – in principle, it's a 'no'.

"We don't pay someone 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."

Harlequins, the Premiership champions, open their home account this evening against a newly-promoted London Welsh side showing five changes from their opening day defeat by Leicester, including a promotion for the fast-improving No 8 Ed Jackson.

Quins, aware that French and Japanese clubs are interested in luring Nick Evans away from the Stoop at the end of the season, hope to agree a contract extension with the influential New Zealander in a matter of weeks. Evans starts at outside-half tonight alongside a fistful of England internationals including Chris Robshaw, Joe Marler, Ugo Monye and Mike Brown.