British and Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland has defended the scheduling of the squad’s first get-together after criticism from Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall.
Saracens face Clermont Auvergne in Saturday’s European Champions Cup final at Murrayfield but cancelled training on Monday after six Lions players joined the wider party to collect their kit for the tour. McCall described the timing of the meeting as “unbelievable”.
Gloucester duo Greig Laidlaw, who was called up following the withdrawal of Ben Youngs, and Ross Moriarty left preparations for their side’s European Challenge Cup final showdown with Stade Francais on Friday.
“If it had been last week it would have potentially affected 22 clubs,” said Gatland. “I understand it’s a massive week for them, but Mondays tend to be a recovery day.
“This date has been communicated months and months and months ago. Now I don’t know when Saracens got the information. But we have told the unions about this date for a long, long time. So we haven’t had any requests from anyone to move this date.
“But I understand the situation, and appreciate the fact that Saracens and Gloucester are releasing their players to us. If they hadn’t been released to us that would have been very difficult for a number of reasons. So it does make a difference.”
Saracens players Mako and Billy Vunipola, Maro Itoje, George Kruis, Owen Farrell and Jamie George are all part of the Lions squad. The tour begins on 3 June with a clash against New Zealand Barbarians.