Neil Jenkins believes late Lions arrivals will be playing catch-up

Lions kicking coach Neil Jenkins says those players training in Jersey have a head start on those still playing for their clubs (PA Archive)
22:00pm, Thu 17 Jun 2021
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The British and Irish Lions’ incoming personnel will be playing catch-up in their quest to face South Africa, according to kicking coach Neil Jenkins.

Only 25 members of the 37-man squad selected by Warren Gatland are present in Jersey for a pre-tour training camp with the remainder set to join upon completion of the English and French domestic seasons.

It means that the absent players, such as Saracens stars Owen Farrell and Maro Itoje, could be as much as two weeks behind their rivals as they chase selection for the Test series against the world champion Springboks.

“The guys in Jersey probably do have a slight advantage. Getting a good week’s prep into them without a game on Saturday, they have got to do stuff they don’t normally do in this down-week,” Jenkins said.

“It’s tough, it’s demanding of them in the way we train and how tough the sessions are.

“But it’s an opportunity to put their best foot forward, for the coaches to see them for the first time before the other guys get here next week and the week after.”

With Farrell taking part in the Championship final play-off second leg on Sunday and Finn Russell still in Top 14 action with Racing 92, Wales’ Dan Biggar is the only fly-half in Jersey.

Dan Biggar is the only fly-half at the Lions' training camp in Jersey (PA Wire)

It places Biggar in pole position against his rivals with Lions attack coach Gregor Townsend – who wore the jersey for the 1997 tour to South Africa – providing occasional cover at 10 in Jersey.

“Gregor’s been doing a bit! Owen will be here early next week and then depending on how Racing go, Finn might be too,” Jenkins said.

“We could have all three next week anyway. Dan’s been going very well and is enjoying more time in the hot-seat. When the others come it’ll be a big plus for us going forward.”

Jenkins is embarking on his sixth Lions tour as a coach and player and believes a key ingredient of the successful tours of 1997, 2013 and 2017 was Gatland’s willingness to put every player in Test contention.

Warren Gatland's plan is to give all players an early chance on tour (PA Wire)

“What I like about what Warren does and maybe our opportunity in 1997 was that we were all given a chance early on. As a player that’s all you can ask for,” he said.

“You know you’ve got to turn up, you know you’ve got to work hard, you know you’ve got to get the respect of your peers.

“Most of the boys play against each other week in, week out, but it’s that opportunity that comes your way early on in the tour, in those first three games, that’s a massive part of it.

“Sometimes maybe there’s been a little bit of a Saturday side and a midweek side, but that’s certainly not going to be the case here. I know Warren is all about giving everyone an opportunity.”

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