UK-based Lions refused permission to fly straight home from South Africa

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British & Irish Lions players based in the UK will be unable to fly straight home following Saturday’s deciding Test against the Springboks, after South Africa was kept on the red list and the government rejected the touring side’s request for full exemption from quarantine.

It is understood that rather than quarantine for 10 days in a designated hotel – at a cost of £2,285 per person – around half the touring party will return to Jersey, where the Lions spent two weeks for a training camp before departing for South Africa.

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The Lions have chartered their own plane and intend to drop off Ireland-based players, who can quarantine at home, before heading to the Channel Island, where they will be subjected to minimal restrictions. Some members of the touring party have made their own arrangements, with Warren Gatland understood to be returning to New Zealand.

The Lions had hoped to be granted exemption from quarantine on arriving back in the UK immediately after the tour but it is understood their request has been rejected by the government. The Lions were expecting the decision and planned accordingly to go to Jersey but eyebrows will be raised at how British Olympians have not had to isolate on their return from Tokyo. 

Japan is on the government’s amber list, meaning no quarantine is necessary provided travellers have been fully vaccinated, but whereas the Lions have adhered to strict bubble restrictions for almost six weeks in South Africa, Olympians had more freedom and interaction with athletes from all over the world.

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It means some Lions players will have spent the best part of 10 weeks away from home – an issue Gatland raised before the tour. “The rugby side takes care of itself, so it’s important we get the other stuff right and think about the players’ well-being and mental health,” he said. “The rugby’s going to be the easy part.”

England’s Lions players are guaranteed to have 10 weeks off after the tour and it is understood their 10-day stint in Jersey will count towards that rest period, meaning they will be out of action until mid-October.

With England scheduled to play three autumn internationals in November, Premiership clubs face being without their Lions players for a large part of the season. After Saracens secured promotion to the Premiership, their director of rugby, Mark McCall, said of his five-strong Lions contingent: “Our Lions players aren’t going to be available for a good chunk at the start of next season and we know that’s going to be difficult to accommodate.”

Meanwhile Alun Wyn Jones has revealed that this week’s training sessions have been full-bore as he prepares for a third Lions series deciderhaving also featured in the final Tests in 2013 and 2017 when the the scores were tied at 1-1. “Our Tuesday session was tasty again,” he said. “It displayed the edge that we’ve seen on similar occasions previously. That’s the best sort of prep we can have for these weeks and these games.”

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