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Premiership to release Lions players before warm-up game with Japan

Fans who live in South Africa will be able to attend games if restrictions change. Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images

Premiership Rugby announced on Tuesday that it has reached an agreement with the British & Irish Lions to release its players at the end of their domestic commitments and before their warm-up game against Japan.

The match against Japan on June 26 is being held outside World Rugby's Regulation 9 window for the release of players for international rugby and the game clashes with the Premiership final.

Premiership Rugby said they will not release players until after the Premiership final in the future.

Exeter Chiefs director of rugby Rob Baxter had said the Lions coaching staff, who are led by Warren Gatland, were being "disingenuous" over the release of players.

At a meeting to discuss the release of players, Gatland had said that those unavailable for the camp would suffer in the tight selection process for the South Africa tour. However, Baxter was unconvinced.

"[The Lions] have known there is no way to cut our season short," he said. "Is there a spare weekend for us to move the Premiership forward? Of course there is not. Everyone has been aware of that and everyone has known when the Premiership season is going to finish.

"So, for the Lions to turn around now and say that [not picking Premiership-based players] is a scenario is a little bit disingenuous of them, because they have known our fixture list for a long time.

"I have got every confidence that Warren Gatland will pick the team that he feels will do the job for him because that's the kind of coach he is. If there was a player in the Premiership final who Gatland thought was an important player in his squad, then I don't think he would leave them out, because I wouldn't.

"If I am Warren Gatland watching guys play outstandingly well in Premiership semifinals and finals, do I decide I don't want them to be part of the Lions tour because they have missed a week's training? It is not like they will need game time.

"Will it potentially be an excuse to leave out a fringe player? Possibly. But I don't think it will be based on availability -- it will be based on playing performance. It's an unfortunate situation, but it has not been created by the Premiership."

Gatland is due to announce his 36-man squad on May 6.