The bulk of the British & Irish Lions squad will be forced to quarantine in Jersey after the UK Government rejected the touring squad’s request for an exemption.
With South Africa remaining on the UK Government’s red list, English, Scottish and Welsh players will not be allowed to fly directly home when the Test series against South Africa concludes this weekend. Irish players, however, will be allowed to quarantine at home and it is understood that the Lions have chartered their own plane, which will stop off at Dublin after landing on the Channel Island.
Some players have made individual arrangements to spend the quarantine period in mainland Europe while head coach Warren Gatland will return to New Zealand. At least half the squad will return to Jersey where they spent two weeks in a pre-tour training camp. They will have the opportunity to reunite with their families there under minimal restrictions after spending nine weeks in a strict bio-secure bubble where they had to observe a host of Covid-19 regulations.
However, the Lions had lobbied the Government to be granted an exemption from quarantine on the basis of the tightness of that bubble. British Olympians will not be required to quarantine returning from Japan, which is an amber list country, despite mixing with athletes from all over the world. However, the Lions’ plea fell on deaf ears forcing them to resort to Jersey which was already designated as their back-up plan.
A government source said: “the red list restrictions apply to all athletes and there are no exceptions on the advice of UK public health experts”.
England’s Lions contingent will now be given a 10-week rest period from Monday meaning that the Premiership clubs will be without many of their leading stars until the week commencing October 18. While this rest period is guaranteed as part of an agreement struck between the Rugby Football Union (RFU), Premiership Rugby and Rugby Players’ Association (RPA) in 2018, Telegraph Sport understands there will be an element of individual management, especially for players such as Jamie George and Jonny Hill who did play a minute of Test rugby in this series.
However, after the interrupted Premiership season resumed nearly 12 months ago on August 13, the RPA will be vigilant to make sure that no clubs take advantage of any grey areas.
That will also have a knock-on effect upon Eddie Jones’ preparations for their England’s autumn international campaign against Tonga, Australia and South Africa. The likes of Maro Itoje will only have played two matches leading into the first match against Tonga on November 6, running the risk that many of England’s leading lights will enter the campaign undercooked as they did during this year’s Six Nations. A further headache for Jones is that all Lions players are guaranteed a rest week during the autumn international fixtures.
Maro Itoje and other English Lions will only be able to play two matches before the autumn internationals, and must also have one rest week within the three-week period
Credit: GETTY IMAGES
Meanwhile, the Lions enter a third successive series under Gatland with the series level at 1-1. On the previous two occasions, the Lions emerged with a resounding 41-16 victory against Australia and a credible 15-15 draw against New Zealand. This may seem to be their toughest test yet with world champions South Africa gaining considerable momentum from a conclusive 27-9 victory in the second Test.
However, according to hooker Ken Owens, who replaces Luke Cowan-Dickie in the starting XV, this is where Gatland has been in his element, slowing rebuilding the team’s confidence after the painful finish to last week’s match. “Warren’s very calm, he just knows how to get the best out of the players whether it’s a small conversation here or there,” Owens said. “He steps in when he needs to, prompts boys when he needs to and he’s just very calm and knows how to get the best out of each individual. He has been at his best with that stuff this week. You can sense the confidence and experience he brings by the way he enters team meetings and talks. That huge experience he has got is right around the place at the moment.
“Alun Wyn (Jones) and Warren have been there and done it, they’ve seen it all. Having them around the place and their experience, it’s huge. It’s rubbed off on everybody in the way we’ve prepared and everyone has been committed to this week. That has been led by Warren and Alun Wyn.”