The French clubs pay the players wages and therefore the French clubs can demand that Gethin Jenkins shall play in the final of the Top 14 and so be unavailable for the start of the Lions tour. That is the argument of Toulon coach Bernard Laporte and the rest of the French club mafia. The trouble is that their argument is in violation of the IRB laws governing the game.
Law 9 (I quote the relevant sections as a footnote at the end of this article) states that players must be available for Lions release from June 1 and no club may draw up a contract that prevents such a release. Now there is a daft footnote about the calendar which is quite nonsensical in law, because it cuts both ways, but go argue that in court Monsieur Laporte.
The question is this: what does Bernard Lapasset, the chairman of the IRB, intend to do about the fact that any French club which inhibits players release to the Lions is in breach of IRB regulations. My bet is that they will do nothing, because Lapasset and his cohorts are patsies. They have softened and softened the IRB regs about player release and yet still sit on their hands when the French clubs stick two fingers up at them.
Regulation 9 does not just specify the dates of the release, it talks about the “spirit as well as the letter” of the regulation. It argues that the future development and extension of the sport at all levels and throughout the world would be threatened if a Union was not able to select and have available the players it requires.”
Of course when it suits them, Monsieur Laporte and Toulon owner are all too willing to quote IRB player regulations. They say that Welsh players will be unavailable for the test against Australia on December 1st because it falls outside the November release date. Well, they can’t have it both ways.
The French clubs and their owners have taken le piss for far too long. Their Top 14 season now starts on August 17th and finishes on June 1st. In other words it spans more than three quarters of the year.
But the French club owners have no desire to further the development of the world game. They have no more interest in the All Blacks than Georgia. Actually, that is not quite true. They are interested in poaching All Blacks, because they hope that the cachet of the silver fern will put more bums on French seats.
The French clubs have become a menace to the international game. Nathan Hines walked out on Perpignan in 2009 so he could go on the Lions Tour. But if the IRB implemented its own regulations, then no player would have to make such an invidious choice.
Over to you, Monsieur Lapasset. The French clubs are in breach of IRB regulations. What do you intend to do about it? France have been chucked out of international rugby once before. It is time to do so again. That will make the players rise up. Only then will the French clubs start acting for the good of the game.
IRB Regulation 9 stipulates: “No Union, Association, Rugby Body or Club whether by contract, conduct or otherwise may inhibit, prevent, discourage, disincentivise or render unavailable any Player from selection, attendance and appearance in a National Representative Team or National Squad session when such request for selection, attendance and appearance is made in accordance with the provisions of this Regulation 9…
“The quadrennial British and Irish Lions Tour is a Designated Event and all Players selected to participate shall be released. The Release Period shall ordinarily commence on 1 June and ordinarily conclude on the 2nd weekend of July in the relevant year.”