The British and Irish Lions have been reinforced by a wave of new arrivals including their Saracens contingent as they step up operations for Saturday’s historic clash with Japan.
All but Exeter’s four-strong detachment are present at the squad’s training camp in Jersey – they will not join up until after the Gallagher Premiership final against Harlequins this weekend.
Owen Farrell and his England team-mates Elliot Daly, Maro Itoje, Jamie George and Mako Vunipola flew to the island on Monday morning after helping Saracens reclaim their place in the top flight with another thumping win over Ealing.
Scotland fly-half Finn Russell has also jetted into camp after his Racing 92 fell to La Rochelle in the semi-finals of the Top 14 on Friday night, lifting the number of players present to 33 of 37.
Twenty-four hours earlier, Bristol prop Kyle Sinckler and Sale flanker Tom Curry landed in Jersey after finishing on the losing side in the Premiership play-offs.
The availability of Farrell and Russell gives the Lions a full compliment of fly-halves with Dan Biggar set to start as chief conductor against Japan having been in camp from the start.
Either Farrell or Russell will be needed for the bench, as will Saracens’ Jamie George who brings the number of hookers to two with Ken Owens available and Luke Cowan-Dickie still on Exeter duty.
All of the Saracens players are Test Lions from 2017, Vunipola and Farrell also earning that distinction in 2013.
“We’re keen to get the whole 37 together as quickly as possible and it’s great that is finally happening,” defence coach Steve Tandy said.
“The Saracens players have got experience from Lions tours, winning European Cups and Premierships, and know what it takes to connect the group. Everyone is really excited to get them on the training field and into the group.”
Tandy, who has delivered a clean bill of health ahead of Tuesday’s team announcement, denies that the platoon of Saracens will be undercooked following a season battling for promotion from the Championship.
“They’ve enjoyed playing and have had a bit of rhythm coming into it. No doubt they’ll be prepared. They played in the Six Nations as well so there’s no doubt they’ll be fully ready to go,” he said.
Apart from the replacement fly-half and hooker, Warren Gatland will call on the players who have been in Jersey since last Sunday when he names his first team of the 2021 tour to South Africa.
The fixture against Japan is only the third time the Lions have played on home soil and it is their first outing against the swashbuckling 2019 World Cup hosts, who have been out of action since losing to the Springboks in Tokyo.
“You look at historical data in terms of how they’ll play and we still feel they’ll play a lot of football, keep the ball for long periods, lots of passes,” Tandy said.
“It’s something we’ve got to be prepared for while instilling what we want to be ready for come those Test matches against South Africa. It’s a balance.
“They’re definitely different to how South Africa play. South Africa will come through our front door first and foremost, so it will be a very different test for us, but an awesome test to see how quickly we can get up and running with our principles.
“If we can deal with Japan’s threats it will stand us in good test for the rest of the tour.”