Lions captain Alun Wyn Jones insists he will still fight for his place

Lions captain Alun Wyn Jones insists he will fight for his place despite being handed the armband after coach Warren Gatland admitted all places are up for grabs

  • Warren Gatland has said Alun Wyn Jones has no divine right to a starting place 
  •  The Welshman was named captain of the side by Gatland ahead of the tour 
  • Maro Itoje, Courtney Lawes and Iain Henderson will provide competition at lock
  • Wyn Jones has stressed the need for rivalry and says he will fight for his position 

Lions skipper Alun Wyn Jones insists he will fight for the right to start in the Test team.

Warren Gatland has stated that the skipper has no divine right to a starting place – and Jones is taking nothing for granted.

Lock competition is stiff with the likes of Jones, Maro Itoje, Courtney Lawes, Iain Henderson, Jonny Hill and Tadhg Beirne.

Alun Wyn Jones insists he will fight for the right to start in the Test team despite being captain

‘You get a lot of congratulations for being captain but you want to be in that Test team,’ said Jones. 

‘There is Competition across the squad. There is a plethora of options, including hybrids that can cover back-row as well. That’s what you want. A strong squad so that a strong Test team comes through.

‘That list is lot longer than just 37. There is a host of others who would give a limb to be involved. To be in that squad is hugely special and it won’t be wasted.’

British and Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland wants his squad to be ready for a battle

British and Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland wants his squad to be ready for a battle 

World champions South Africa will be a tough test for Warren Gatland's squad, starting in June

World champions South Africa will be a tough test for Warren Gatland’s squad, starting in June

After being handed the armband, Jones said: ‘It’s surreal, I’ve always been fully aware of all those involved for the Lions, not just the captains.

‘To have your name tagged on to the end of those names is surreal and I totally understand the expectations of the four nations, of the fans.

‘It (tour) has already been unique with the will it, won’t it happen, and when will the squad be announced.

‘The jeopardy that has already happened means we will have a siege mentality from the off because of the forced bubble and fact that we will have to spend so much time together.’

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Lions fail to sell documentary rights for South Africa tour as major broadcasters all turn them down

Lions fail to sell documentary rights for South Africa tour as Sky Sports, BT Sport, Amazon and Netflix all turn down chance to film fly-on-the-wall series following Warren Gatland’s side

  • The Lions have been hoping to sell documentary rights for South Africa tour
  • So far, their extensive negotiations with all major options have come up short
  • Sky Sports, BT Sport, Netflix and Amazon have all turned down the chance
  • News comes as a blow to fans, who are unable to travel due to the pandemic 

The British Lions have been unable to sell documentary rights for the South Africa tour despite holding extensive negotiations with both traditional broadcasters and streaming giants. 

Sky Sports declined the opportunity to secure documentary access when winning the rights to broadcast their seventh successive Lions tour last summer, while talks with BT Sport, Amazon and Netflix have also proved unsuccessful to date.

The lack of a fly-on-the-wall series in the manner of the seminal Living with Lions documentary that charted Sir Ian McGeechan’s successful tour to South Africa in 1997 will be a major disappointment to fans, particularly as they will be unable to travel due to the pandemic. 

As it stands, there will not be a documentary film crew following the Lions in South Africa 

It was hoped Amazon might be keen to use the Lions for their 'All or Nothing' Prime series

It was hoped Amazon might be keen to use the Lions for their ‘All or Nothing’ Prime series 

The 1997 'Living with Lions' documentary was a brilliant fly-on-the-wall look at Sir Ian McGeechan's successful tour to South Africa

The 1997 ‘Living with Lions’ documentary was a brilliant fly-on-the-wall look at Sir Ian McGeechan’s successful tour to South Africa

In the absence of a production deal Lions staff have filmed Warren Gatland’s selection meetings and last month’s reconnaissance trip to their Jersey training base themselves in the hope of receiving a last-minute offer. Failing that the footage will be released on Lions’ own channels at the start of the tour.

The failure to secure a documentary partner is a major setback for the Lions which could have significant financial implications as they seek to recoup tour costs of around £18million, with their revenues already hit by the absence of travelling fans. 

To compound matters the Lions’ pitch to broadcasters was for a genuinely ground-breaking documentary, as in addition to their own dressing room they were also offering film crews access behind-the-scenes access to the Springboks camp for the first time.

All of Warren Gatland's selection meetings have been filmed in the hope of a last-minute deal

All of Warren Gatland’s selection meetings have been filmed in the hope of a last-minute deal 

The news is a huge blow for fans, who will not be able to travel as they have done for previous tours, like the famous victory over Australia back in 2013 (pictured)

The news is a huge blow for fans, who will not be able to travel as they have done for previous tours, like the famous victory over Australia back in 2013 (pictured) 

In an innovative deal the Lions have agreed a joint venture with South Africa Rugby to pool all their commercial and broadcasting ventures around a centralised programme. Previous tour documentaries have only gone behind the scenes of the Lions team and it had been hoped that this new package would secure an additional broadcasting partner.

Amazon’s reluctance to table an attractive bid was particularly disappointing, as they have previously included the All Blacks in their All or Nothing series of documentaries that has also featured Manchester City, Tottenham and numerous NFL franchises. 

The uncertainty over the tour schedule caused by the pandemic and the absence of colour provided by travelling fans are too of the factors that have deterred broadcasters from buying documentary rights.

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Manu Tuilagi and Courtney Lawes WON’T recover before Warren Gatland’s Lions squad announcement

Injured England duo Manu Tuilagi and Courtney Lawes WON’T recover before Warren Gatland’s Lions squad announcement… with former Wales boss left with dilemma to gamble on their fitness

  • Injured England duo Manu Tuilagi and Courtney Lawes remain on the sidelines 
  • With Warren Gatland’s Lions squad to be announced, they will rely on reputation 
  • Sale centre Tuilagi, 29, has not played since tearing his achilles in September
  • Lawes had to withdraw from England’s Six Nations squad with a chest injury

Injured England duo Manu Tuilagi and Courtney Lawes will have to rely on reputation alone if they are to be picked for the Lions this week with both still a way off returning.

Tuilagi, 29, has not played since tearing his achilles in September and Lawes, 32, had to withdraw from England’s Six Nations squad in February after suffering a chest injury.

Sportsmail understands that neither are ready to play for Sale and Northampton respectively this weekend so Lions head coach Warren Gatland will have to gamble on their fitness if he is to select either in his touring party this Thursday.

Lawes, 32, had to withdraw from England’s Six Nations squad in February after suffering a chest injury

Injured England duo Manu Tuilagi and Courtney Lawes will have to rely on reputation for Lions

Tuilagi’s Sale return was set for this month but it is understood he will not feature against Leicester in the Premiership on Friday night – rated as a week away from his comeback ‘at the very least’ by an insider.

And Lawes is expected to make just the final three or four league matches for Saints, meaning he will be hard pressed to make Gatland’s slim 36-man squad with such an array of options at second and back row.

With George North unavailable due to injury the Lions may lack a big ball-carrying threat in the backs, so Tuilagi could well be drafted in as such a potent midfield force.

Lions head coach Warren Gatland will have to gamble on their fitness if he is to select either

Lions head coach Warren Gatland will have to gamble on their fitness if he is to select either

But the centre is only likely to have played around six full-blooded games in the space of nine months before the South Africa tour, if picked by the Lions.

An added complication for both England men would be if their clubs make the Premiership playoffs or the end-of-season final.

If so both would hardly be able to meet and bond with the rest of the squad, who will travel to Jersey from June 13 until they play Japan in Scotland a fortnight later, before the flight to South Africa.

Gatland and his coaches will have to decide this week if they can afford to take either in the Lions’ thinnest squad of the professional era, knowing they have precious little time to get up to speed.

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Danny Wilson and Tabai Matson join Harlequins’ four-man shortlist for a new head coach

Danny Wilson and Tabai Matson join John Dobson on Harlequins’ four-man shortlist for a new head coach – as the search to find Paul Gustard’s replacement continues

  • Harlequins are on the lookout for a new head coach since Paul Gustard left
  • Gustard left his role in January with Quins looking for a low-profile appointment
  • Rassie Erasmus was an early target but talks are understood to have collapsed

Harlequins have added Danny Wilson and Tabai Matson to a four-man shortlist for their new head coach.

The club have already been linked with South African John Dobson, following the early exit of Paul Gustard in January.

World Cup winning Springboks coach Rassie Erasmus was an early target, but those talks are understood to have fallen through.

Glasgow’s Danny Wilson is on Harlequins’ four-man shortlist for a new head coach

The club are now looking at a lower-profile appointment to compliment the coaching group behind their recent play-off push.

New Zealand Sevens coach Clark Laidlaw could become another option after this summer’s Olympic Games.

Meanwhile, Bristol are understood to have expressed an interest to Sale about the future of winger Denny Solomona.

Quins are yet to find a replacement for Paul Gustard who left his role at The Stoop in January

Quins are yet to find a replacement for Paul Gustard who left his role at The Stoop in January

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England scrum-half Ben Youngs PULLS OUT of this summer’s Lions tour of South Africa

England scrum-half Ben Youngs PULLS OUT of this summer’s Lions tour of South Africa with 31-year-old wanting to spend the time with his family

  • England’s Ben Youngs has pulled out of this summer’s Lions tour of South Africa
  • Scrum-half wants to spend the time with his family with a third child on the way
  • Youngs would have been the most experienced back in Warren Gatland’s squad
  • Gatland will name his touring party on Thursday, although there is no clear No9

England scrum-half Ben Youngs has pulled out of this summer’s Lions tour of South Africa.

The 31-year-old received a save-the-date letter from Warren Gatland but subsequently ruled himself out of contention.

With 110 international caps to his name, Youngs would have been the most experienced back in the 36-man squad.

England scrum-half Ben Youngs has pulled out of this summer’s Lions tour of South Africa

However, he told Sportsmail that he has made the tough decision so he can spend the time with his family, as he has a third child on the way.

‘Whether or not I would have made the final cut, I’ll never know,’ he said.

‘I’ve got two young children and my wife is heavily pregnant with the third. This summer I’ve got an opportunity to be with my family and my kids.

‘I have always loved the Lions. I’ll be cheering them on, and I wish everyone involved a healthy and successful tour. It’s not a decision that I’ve taken lightly, but it’s the best decision for my family.’

Gatland will name his touring party on Thursday, although there is no front-running candidate to fill the No 9 jersey.

Save-the-date letters were sent to more than 50 players, with non-internationals Danny Care and Ben Spencer understood to be among the scrum-halves in contention.

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George North ruled out of Lions’ summer tour of South Africa after suffering serious knee injury

George North ruled out of Lions’ summer tour of South Africa after suffering serious knee injury as ‘heartbroken’ Wales star tweets ‘Sport can be cruel’ ahead of surgery

  • George North is no longer in contention for Lions’ upcoming tour of South Africa
  • He ruptured his ACL while playing for Ospreys against Cardiff Blues last week
  • News will come as a huge blow for Warren Gatland as North prepares for surgery
  • Wales star North tweeted ‘Sport can be cruel’ as he announced the news to fans 

Wales star George North is out of contention for the British and Irish Lions tour of South Africa after confirming he has suffered a serious knee injury.

It is a major blow for Lions head coach Warren Gatland, who names his squad next week.

North was hurt during Ospreys’ victory over Cardiff Blues last weekend, and he tweeted: ‘Sport can be cruel.

‘We all know the risks when we take the field. Unfortunately, I ruptured my ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) on Saturday and will need surgery next week. Heartbroken is an understatement.’

The normal recovery period for such an injury is six-nine months.

The Ospreys said: ‘The Ospreys can confirm wing George North has suffered an ACL injury to his right knee and will be ruled out for the rest of the season.

‘The Wales wing saw a specialist in London earlier this week and will undergo surgery next week.’

North, 29, was widely tipped for a starting place in Gatland’s Test team against the world champion Springboks.

He had been switched from wing to outside centre with great success by Wales head coach Wayne Pivac this season and played a key role in Wales’ Guinness Six Nations title-winning campaign.

North has won 102 caps for Wales and played in all three Lions Tests against Australia eight years ago.

It is a second setback in 24 hours for Gatland after Wasps and England lock Joe Launchbury saw his Lions selection hopes ended, also by a ruptured knee ligament.

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Lions Tour: Premiership agree to release players in June ahead of South Africa tour

Lions agree deal with the Premiership to release players for warm-up match against Japan in June after domestic season ends as Warren Gatland’s side receive a huge boost ahead of South Africa tour

  • The Gallagher Premiership has agreed to release players ahead of the Lions tour 
  • Players faced missing out on warm-up match v Japan if officials blocked them 
  • Warren Gatland feared the team’s preparations could be harmed as a result
  • PRL said negotiations were never purely about money and wished the Lions well 

The British and Irish Lions have reached an agreement with the Gallagher Premiership over the release of players for the pre-tour Test against Japan at Murrayfield on June 26.

Warren Gatland had revealed that the prospect of stars from the English top flight being unavailable for the warm-up game might harm their chances of being selected for the tour to South Africa.

But Premiership Rugby Limited has announced that players will be released at the conclusion of their domestic commitments, enabling them to take part in the training camp in Jersey and the Japan match.

Gallagher Premiership has confirmed it will release players to join up with the Lions in June 

The regular Premiership season finishes on June 14 and while those involved in the play-offs can only join up with the Lions once their club duties are over, all others are now available to Gatland.

‘We are very grateful to Premiership Rugby and PRO14 for the release of players after they have concluded their domestic commitments,’ Lions chairman Jason Leonard said.

A refusal to grant release would have affected not only England stars but also Scotland and Wales internationals such as Dan Biggar, Stuart Hogg and Taulupe Faletau, who are competing in the top flight.

‘We know how much the Lions tour means to rugby fans and players and we wish the Lions every success. We are sure our players will make a huge contribution,’ a PRL statement read.

The decision is a huge boost to boss Warren Gatland, who was concerned about preparations

The decision is a huge boost to boss Warren Gatland, who was concerned about preparations 

‘Throughout the negotiations, Premiership Rugby has sought a solution that works for everyone – the players, the clubs and the Lions.

‘This discussion was never just about money. Premiership clubs are at the very heart of English rugby – helping to nurture the pipeline of talent which supports the international game and future Lions tours.

‘It is essential that we are properly consulted – and our position respected – when fixtures are scheduled which impact the domestic season.

PRL said it understood the importance of the Lions but that it was important to find a solution

PRL said it understood the importance of the Lions but that it was important to find a solution 

‘The Lions warm-up match against Japan falls outside of the World Rugby regulation nine window for release of players for international rugby, which is in breach of what was agreed in San Francisco in 2017.

‘The Japan game also clashes with the highlight of our season, the Premiership final.

‘For future Lions tours, Premiership Rugby will not release players until after the Premiership final.

‘We will continue to honour our commitments around player-release, under regulation nine, and encourage all parties in rugby to work more closely to avoid situations like this happening in the future.’ 

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Former England international Ben Kay on joining rugby’s ongoing fight against dementia

Ben Kay wants to ease fears and cut through the hysteria. As a former rugby player in his 40s, he was worried when he learnt his World Cup-winning team-mate Steve Thompson had been diagnosed with early-onset dementia.

Thompson, who revealed last year he is joining a class-action law suit against the game, believing his condition was caused by playing rugby, is 42 and all those who have joined the legal case are Kay’s contemporaries.

The former Leicester and England lock is 45 and as level-headed in life as he is when providing punditry for BT Sport and ITV. So while he is not joining the legal action, he wants to help relieve concerns about brains and rugby.

World Cup winner Ben Kay has joined a landmark study to investigate dementia in rugby

‘Fear for the game is probably as strong as some of the fears individuals have, but it needs balance,’ Kay tells Sportsmail having joined a landmark study into 50 former players’ brains.

‘A lot of people have played rugby and not all of them have neurodegenerative diseases.’

Kay’s agent worked with footballer Alan Shearer when he produced a documentary on potential links between his sport and dementia in 2017.

So when Kay, who works with the Rugby Players’ Association charity Restart, was flooded with messages from concerned players last year, she helped him contact brain experts.

With neuropathologist and concussion specialist Professor Willie Stewart and Professor Craig Ritchie, an expert on ageing and brain health, Kay set up a webinar to bring some calm.

‘Inevitably, some people will start to worry,’ explains Kay. ‘It was amazing how many people wanted to take part as quietly they had started to question things. Once someone plants that seed in your head, you start worrying a little bit, thinking, “I did forget someone’s name or where I put my car keys. Oh crikey, is that because I’ve had a concussion?”

‘One of my big worries speaking to the doctors is that one of the risk factors is stress and mental health problems. You sit at home worrying about it.

‘There is a great example that someone gave me. Think of your brain as a computer, and it has a certain amount of RAM.

‘If you’re worried about your memory and are worrying it’s a neurodegenerative disease that has already set in, and then you’re thinking about the things you’ve forgotten, the more you worry the more you forget, because your brain hasn’t got the processing power to deal with it.

Shane Williams also joined the study and will have scans and checks over a number of years

Shane Williams also joined the study and will have scans and checks over a number of years

Former England lock Kay hopes to ease fears and help others as part of the dementia study

Former England lock Kay hopes to ease fears and help others as part of the dementia study

‘The neurologist said himself that he forgets where he puts his keys about four times a week but isn’t worried he’s got a problem. Undoubtedly, rugby has an issue it needs to address from all directions but we’ve got to keep a little bit of balance.

‘The game has been played for a long time — I know it’s more physical now than it has ever been — but it’s not inevitable every player will go down that path.

‘My memory for people’s names has always been terrible but there are some areas where it’s really good. Potentially, it’s just how the brain works. You can’t allay your fears without finding more information — that’s where this study is so important.’

That study is one into former players’ brains. Kay is joining other ex-professionals, including Welsh legend Shane Williams. Called PREVENT:RFC and funded thanks to £250,000 from the Alzheimer’s Society, it will involve those between the ages of 40 and 59 who will complete a lengthy health questionnaire, undergo tests and brain scans, then return in two years and five years to track changes.

The project has already compiled a control sample of 700, so by adding rugby players it will be able to show to what extent the sport adds risks.

‘Hopefully this is the beginning, that the authorities can feed in data, too, and we can build a clearer picture,’ says Kay. ‘There’s a selfish reason for doing this. I’m not necessarily sitting at home panicking that this is a path that I’m on, but the more information you know about yourself the better. Equally it’s helping others.

‘Hopefully, this study will feed into finding a cure for dementia for the general population.

‘I’d be very surprised, knowing rugby players, if there were many who wouldn’t want to be part of this. I feel very fortunate that I am. You have a duty to find some answers.’

Rugby has been grappling for answers itself in the fight against concussions and brain injuries.

Kay’s days of 100-scrum sessions, long, physical midweek training and a culture where players would hide injuries because they were unaware of the consequences, are thankfully long gone.

Kay's ex-teammate Steve Thompson has been diagnosed with early-onset dementia last year

Kay’s ex-teammate Steve Thompson has been diagnosed with early-onset dementia last year

He has felt a sub-conscious shift in how he talks about head collisions in games when on television and is less keen on watching boxing these days, but is sensible enough to realise there is no overnight solution when it comes to rugby and brain health.

‘As soon as rugby recognised it had a problem, suddenly everyone thought the system would become perfect,’ he says.

‘Everyone is a bit of an expert when it comes to changes we should introduce in rugby.

‘We know it’s inherently a reckless sport, but if we can make it as safe as possible, then it’s players’ and parents’ decision whether the benefits, which are considerable, outweigh the risks.

‘The shift of behaviour is off the charts over the last few years. The players are better educated and know what to look out for, so I absolutely believe the game has got safer.

‘We should be limiting the amount of exposure players have to contact each week.

‘With all this, the important part of science is testing stuff, getting as much data as possible and using that to find potential solutions.

‘Rugby is no different. I hope this study is the start of the process of finding a solution.’

Rugby legends Ben Kay and Shane Williams join landmark rugby dementia study

Rugby legends Ben Kay and Shane Williams join landmark rugby dementia study to investigate potential links between the sport and illness – as 50 ex-pros step up for tests

  • Ben Kay and Shane Williams are joining landmark brain study into dementia
  • Ex-rugby stars are investigating potential links between the sport and the illness 
  • They will have scans, assessments and checks over a number of years 

World Cup winner Ben Kay and Welsh legend Shane Williams are two of 50 former rugby players joining a landmark brain study investigating potential links between the sport and dementia.

Last year a group of former players diagnosed with early-onset dementia – including Kay’s England team-mate Steve Thompson – started a class-action lawsuit against World Rugby, the Rugby Football Union and Welsh Rugby Union over historic approaches to head injuries.

But although Kay, 45, is not part of that group, he is keen to help scientists learn more about rugby’s links to dementia.

World Cup winner Ben Kay has landmark brain study investigating potential links to dementia

He and the other players will have scans, assessments and checks over a number of years to help build a database which can be compared to the normal population. It is hoped it will show whether or not rugby players are at greater risk of developing dementia.

Kay told Sportsmail: ‘I’m hoping this is the start of the process of finding a solution. Knowledge and data are key, and this study which the Alzheimer’s Society have fantastically supported, as that sort of thing isn’t cheap, will allow us to build a bank of data.

‘There’s a selfish reason for doing this. The more information you know about yourself the better, but equally it’s helping others.

‘Hopefully this study will feed into finding a cure for the general population.

‘I’d be very surprised, knowing rugby players, if there were many who wouldn’t want to be part of this. I feel very fortunate that I have. You have a duty to find some answers.’

The study, PREVENT:RFC, funded by £250,000 from the Alzheimer’s Society – will run alongside an informal one involving footballers, among them Alan Shearer.

Williams (pictured) will also have scans, assessments and checks over a number of years

Williams (pictured) will also have scans, assessments and checks over a number of years

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George North to undergo scan on Monday after injuring his knee in Ospreys’ win over Cardiff

George North to undergo scan on Monday after injuring his knee in Ospreys’ win over Cardiff

George North will undergo a scan on his knee on Monday after he had to be helped off in Ospreys’ win over Cardiff which has put his Lions chances under threat.

The Welsh back, 29, went down on Saturday five minutes into the second half after a seemingly innocuous incident, his leg sticking in the Liberty Stadium turf.

Sportsmail understands today he will have tests at hospital, having left the ground on Saturday on crutches, praying any damage will not rule him out of the Lions tour this summer to South Africa.

Warren Gatland picks his side next Thursday, so if North were to be out it would be a bitter blow so close to the trip.

His Ospreys boss Toby Booth said: ‘The next 48 hours are crucial in relation to assessment and management. We’ll know over the next few days when it settles and we get some images in to confirm what we are actually dealing with.

‘It would be an enormous blow for him (if it was a bad injury), it would be devastating.’

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