British and Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland has rejected criticism from Saracens director of rugby Mark McCal for holding a squad get-together five days before the Champions Cup final.
Saracens have six players - Owen Farrell, Jamie George, George Kruis, Maro Itoje and the Vunipola brothers - the largest contingent of any club, in Gatland's 41-man squad.
McCall told The Sunday Telegraph that he found the decision to stage the get-together so close to the Champions Cup final in which Saracens face Clermont Auvergne as "unbelievable." Eight years ago, Northampton refused to release prop Euan Murray in similar circumstances.
Yet Gatland countered that information of this date had been communicated to all the unions well in advance and said that any players who were not released would have severely hurt their chances of selection.
"I've got to understand where they are coming from, having been involved in the situation, and I understand Mark's reasoning as well," Gatland said. "Potentially if it had been last week it would have potentially affected 22 clubs. I understand it's a massive week for them. But Mondays tend to be a recovery day.
"This date has been communicated months and months and months ago. Now I don't know when Saracens got the information. But we have told the unions about this date for a long, long time. So we haven't had any requests from anyone to move this date.
"But I understand the situation, and appreciate the fact that Saracens and Gloucester are releasing their players to us. If they hadn't been released to us that would have been very difficult for a number of reasons. So it does make a difference."
The get-together is formally known as administrative day, in which player collect their kit, and informally known as "Messy Monday" although the scope for drinking sessions has diminished over the years. Even in the absence of actual training, Gatland insists the opportunity for the squad to come together socially for the first time serves an important purpose.
"We're very grateful to Saracens and Gloucester with big games this week for releasing players to us," Gatland said. "It does really make a big difference for us.
"It's exciting, but also a very important day for us. Every Lions squad goes through this organisation day. For us to be able to have that today to start the preparation time. I've spoken to the most of the players, it's like the first day of school. Everyone's a little nervous, getting to know each other, players introducing themselves."