British and Irish Lions bosses have confirmed Jersey as their preferred location for a training camp this summer – and are touching down on the island today to make final arrangements.
Head Coach Warren Gatland confirmed the top rugby team had settled on Jersey as its top pick in a press conference yesterday afternoon.
The plans could see the team stationed in Jersey for up to 11 days from 13 June ahead of their pre-tour fixture against Japan in Murrayfield. They’ll then fly directly from Jersey to Edinburgh.
It is understood that travel exemptions, which have been used for incoming essential workers since last year, will be granted to the Mr Gatland and accompanying officials, who will follow strict covid guidelines during their visit this week.
Plans to keep the island and the players covid-safe in June are expected to be discussed and worked on during this week's short visit, with the island returning to a traffic light travel system from April 26.
Mr Gatland initially visited the island in February to scout for local sport facilities that could potentially be used as a contingency plan if the summer tour of South Africa had to be moved to the British Isles because of covid.
Pictured: Mr Gatland initially visited Jersey in February to check out the island's facilities.
The talks were positive, with Mr Gatland reportedly particularly impressed with the new Strive facility in St. Peter, a multi-million sports complex neighbouring the Jersey Ruby Club, and due to open in May.
It has now been selected as the main training ground.
At the time of the first visit, Senator Lyndon Farnham said that discussions with the Lions had been “very positive” and that the island would be “delighted to safely host the British and Irish Lions this summer.”
Mr Gatland also visited Guernsey at the beginning of the month to explore opportunities, although the visit caused some controversy due to the decision to let him visit without the island's usual isolation requirements.
Former Guernsey Chief Minister Gavin St. Pier called the island's management of the visit "a masterclass in poor communication."
Mr Gatland also confirmed the 2021 coaches yesterday, as well as addressing some of the difficulties in getting his Lions squad together for the Jersey training camp.
Pictured: Guernsey was also investigated as a training camp option.
Some Premiership clubs are seeking compensation to release their men early for the camp, meaning that England players may be at a disadvantage.
"There’s so much competition at the moment, so we’re trying to get a resolution on what PRL’s stance is on the release of players," Mr Gatland said.
"There have been agreements in the past and the Lions have always compensated clubs – something they didn’t really have to do. What we are asking for is can they be released a little bit earlier, when they’ve finished their club campaign."
He said that he hoped "common sense will prevail, so we don’t have to go through the squad and start looking at 50-50 calls on players and thinking, 'Well, he’s based in England so he’s not going to be available.'
"We are looking at going to Jersey for a two-week camp so the last thing I would want is for players to miss out on the tour because of that."
Ben Harvey, director of Strive, the facility the Lions are looking to use for their training, told Express he was “delighted” that the island has been chosen, emphasised that it will not only be “one or two groups that benefit” but the whole community.
Pictured: Strive, which is nearing completion, will be the main training ground.
“There’s no one more high performance than the British and Irish Lions – it’s quite extraordinary,” Mr Harvey said.
He explained conversations about details were currently ongoing: “We’ve got everything they would possibly need… we are in the depths of very detailed planning; how they construct their day, how their players will train, what they will do, where they will eat – it’s all very detailed.”
The building, is made up of two separate areas – a performance centre for training athletes and educating school children in sport, as well as a health club for members of Strive on the other side.
One of the facilities that could be of use to the Lions is the altitude chamber, which controls oxygen and atmospheric conditions in a room to replicate conditions on higher playing fields the teams may play on.
“We’ve built a built a high performance centre that the island can be proud of – looking after local people and local children, but also looking after athletes as well,” he said.
He added that the Lions’ pick was a huge vote of confidence in the new facility too: “If it’s good enough for the Lions, it shows it’s good enough for the island.”
Minister for Economic Development, Senator Lyndon Farnham said: “Jersey would benefit enormously if the British and Irish Lions run a training camp here this summer, and I hope this week’s discussions will see a positive outcome.
"We have excellent facilities, and robust Covid measures that would keep both Islanders and Lions team members safe while they are here.
"I am pleased that Mr Gatland is making his second visit to the island to discuss the squad’s requirements further. It is a positive sign that Jersey is a serious option for them. We will provide an update as soon as we receive confirmation from the delegation.”
Pictured top: Lions' Head Coach, Warren Gatland. (Inpho/Dan Sheridan)
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