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England should learn lesson from celtic neighbours on how to treat their Lions

By NIALL CROZIER

It has been interesting to witness the markedly different approaches of the home countries to the return to action of the summer's conquering British and Irish Lions.

Fresh -- I jest -- from the tourists' 2-1 series triumph in Australia, England's representatives were back on duty for the latter part of their respective clubs' pre-season warm-up schedules.

Leicester Tigers, for example, fielded four Lions in the pack which faced Ulster. Indeed, they were back on duty a week earlier when the Premiership champions were in action against Jersey in the Channel Islands.

Not surprisingly, where possible the English clubs deployed their Lions at the weekend when the curtain went up on the Aviva Premiership.

One can only wonder as to the wisdom of a system which appears to be utterly dismissive of the need for rest, recovery and recuperation. These men are not robots and regardless of the wages paid to them they are subject to the limitations imposed by the mere fact that, like the rest of us, they are flesh and blood mortals so although they are super-fit money cannot buy what is physically impossible.

And let it not be forgotten that it is the English clubs whose voices are raised loudest in protestation that the success of RaboDirect PRO12 clubs -- actually they mean the Irish provinces -- in the Heineken Cup is attributable to their participation in that supposedly easier league competition.

Question: might it not have something to do with the fact that under the Irish Rugby Football Union's player management programme the four provinces treat their players rather better than the English clubs do when it comes to their physical well-being and mental state of health?

Note that Ireland's 2013 Lions are not due back until round four of the PRO12 (September 27-29). Like Ireland, the Scottish districts, Glasgow and Edinburgh, gave their Lions a stay of execution last weekend.

In Wales, too, Scarlets, Newport Gwent Dragons and Cardiff Blues rested their Lions in the opening round of the PRO 12. And although Ospreys introduced Adam Jones, Richard Hibbard and Ian Evans from the bench in Treviso where their side won despite the fact that none of their Lions started, Alun Wyn Jones and Justin Tipuric were allowed further time in dry-dock.

Former Wales and Lions flanker Martyn Williams said clubs must decide when to rest their Lions.

"It's a difficult balancing act for everyone," he said.

Try telling that to the owners of the English clubs.

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