British and Irish Lions stars take pay cut ahead of South Africa tour

British and Irish Lions stars take pay cut ahead of South Africa tour as 37-man squad accept basic wage of £48,750 for eight matches… while Warren Gatland also takes hit on £500,000 salary

  • Lions stars accept 25 per cent pay cut ahead of this summer’s South Africa tour
  • Gatland’s squad will be paid basic wages of £48,750 for the eight-match tour
  • The previous squad were paid £65,000 for New Zealand series four years ago
  • Gatland is also understood to have taken a significant cut to his £500,000 salary

British and Irish Lions stars have accepted a 25 per cent pay cut ahead of this summer’s trip to South Africa. 

Sportsmail has learned Warren Gatland’s squad will be paid basic wages of £48,750 for the eight-match tour, compared to £65,000 for the New Zealand series four years ago.

The cut is due to the financial impact of the pandemic, with 37 Lions receiving their lowest pay since the trip to South Africa in 2009. 

Warren Gatland and his Lions squad have taken pay cuts ahead of the South Africa tour

Gatland is also understood to have taken a significant cut to his £500,000 salary, along with the rest of the Lions’ permanent management and staff, with the cut kicking in last May. 

The Lions’ compensation payments to clubs have also been reduced by 25 per cent to partially offset the loss of commercial and ticketing revenue caused by the absence of travelling fans. 

Each club will receive £48,750 for every player they contribute to the squad, with Saracens in line to collect almost £250,000 as they have provided five Lions – Owen Farrell, Jamie George, Maro Itoje, Mako Vunipola and Elliot Daly. 

The players will also receive a bonus of around £10,000 if they win a series for the first time since the tour to Australia eight years ago. 

The 37-man squad will be paid basic wages of £48,750 for the eight-match tour, compared to £65,000 for the New Zealand series (pictured) four years ago

The 37-man squad will be paid basic wages of £48,750 for the eight-match tour, compared to £65,000 for the New Zealand series (pictured) four years ago

That is a 50 per cent reduction on the prize pot that was on offer for the drawn series in New Zealand four years ago. 

The Lions’ tour cheque was £50,000 in Australia before increasing to £65,000 in New Zealand, with the significant reduction this year coming as a direct result of the pandemic.

South Africa Rugby have yet to confirm how many fans will be allowed to attend the three Test matches against the Springboks, but it is thought 50 per cent of capacity is the maximum that will be permitted. 

Lions’ commercial revenue will also be hit by the absence of travelling fans and, as Sportsmail revealed last week, failure to agree a documentary deal in the style of the hugely successful Living with Lions has been another financial blow. 

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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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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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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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Saracens 48-20 Ealing Trailfinders: Owen Farrell scores 23 in five-try victory for Sarries

Saracens 48-20 Ealing Trailfinders: Mark McCall backs his second-tier stars for Lions Tour as Owen Farrell scores 23 in comfortable five-try victory for Sarries

  • Saracens boss Mark McCall backs his Saracens players for upcoming Lions Tour 
  • Star-studded Sarries beat Championship toppers Ealing Trailfinders comfortably
  • Captain Owen Farrell scored 23 points and Saracens went over for five tries 

Saracens boss Mark McCall thinks his players will be in better shape for the Lions tour to South Africa than their Celtic counterparts, despite playing in the second tier.

Owen Farrell, Maro Itoje, Jamie George, Elliot Daly and Billy and Mako Vunipola all played as Sarries beat Championship table-toppers Ealing Trailfinders comfortably.

And their head coach reckons all will be in prime form to make Warren Gatland’s Lions squad on Thursday week having battled in the Championship — more competitive in his mind than the Pro14’s low-key Rainbow Cup.

Star-studded Saracanes beat Championship toppers Ealing Trailfinders comfortably 48-20

Captain Owen Farrell scored 23 points and Saracens went over for five tries in home victory

Captain Owen Farrell scored 23 points and Saracens went over for five tries in home victory

‘Our players are getting more rugby than the Welsh, Scottish and Irish,’ said McCall, whose players were labelled as undercooked by the RFU’s review into England’s Six Nations.

‘They’re hardly playing at all. Alun Wyn Jones didn’t play for the Ospreys on Saturday. We don’t worry about that.

‘These games are physical. Ealing are a mid-table Premiership side in my opinion. Our players won’t be undercooked in any way.

‘Look at the Scottish, Irish and Welsh players and see if they’re undercooked.’

Owen Farrell, Maro Itoje, Jamie George, Elliot Daly (pictured) and Billy and M. Vunipola played

Owen Farrell, Maro Itoje, Jamie George, Elliot Daly (pictured) and Billy and M. Vunipola played

There was a small scare for Billy Vunipola in the win, the No 8 going off after an hour with a rib injury, but McCall said: ‘I don’t think it is anything too major.’

Owen Farrell scored 23 points and Saracens went over for five tries to move third in the table, one point behind Doncaster with a game in hand, thrashing their likely playoff final opponents to ease fears they would fail in their promotion bid.

They are destined to meet Ealing again in the two-legged playoff final in June, and have laid down a marker.

Having lost their opening game to Cornish Pirates, Saracens are back on track after winning their five games since. ‘We have put it firmly back in our own hands,’ said McCall, who now will rotate his senior men with games against Nottingham, Ampthill, Coventry and Hartpury to come in the regular season.

Ealing came into this unbeaten having taken maximum points from their first six games — and had some early joy in the scrum, tight-head Elliot Millar-Mills getting the better of Mako Vunipola.

But in the first 25 minutes Ealing only took two Craig Willis penalties as Saracens scored through Alex Lewington and Vincent Koch.

Farrell hit three penalties either side of half-time in a dominant display at StoneX Stadium

Farrell hit three penalties either side of half-time in a dominant display at StoneX Stadium

Ealing then forced a penalty try and yellow card for Jackson Wray after a huge maul collapsed over the Saracens’ line.

Farrell hit three penalties either side of half-time. The lead became a gulf as Koch grabbed his second, Aled Davies ran in the bonus-point score and Nick Tompkins completed the rout with a fifth try.

After James Cordy Redden and Lewis Thiede were sin-binned, Ealing scored a late try through James Buckley, which David Johnston converted.

As talk of ring-fencing the Premiership intensifies, McCall thinks Ealing should be given a chance to go up in future.

‘If a club is good enough and have got the appetite and resources, which I think Ealing are and have, then they shouldn’t be deprived an opportunity to step up a league,’ McCall said.

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