I want to see 20-plus Eng­land play­ers on Li­ons tour, says coach

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport Rugby Union - By Daniel Schofield

Ed­die Jones be­lieves that Eng­land can pro­vide a record con­tin­gent of more than 20 play­ers for the Bri­tish and Ir­ish Li­ons tour to South Africa next sum­mer.

The Eng­land head coach has chal­lenged his play­ers to give Li­ons coach Warren Gat­land no real choice but to se­lect them to face the world cham­pion Spring­boks.

For the 2017 tour to New Zealand, Gat­land picked 16 English­men in an orig­i­nal tour­ing party of 41. Ex­clud­ing in­jury re­place­ment call-ups, the largest con­tin­gent Eng­land have pro­vided is 20 for the ill-fated 2005 se­ries in New Zealand – 22 were sum­moned in 1997, but only when in­jury re­place­ments are in­cluded.

The Li­ons lost the 2017 se­ries 3-0 and the fu­ture of the con­cept was ques­tioned af­ter ac­cu­sa­tions of English favouritis­m were lev­elled at head coach Sir Clive Wood­ward.

Jones, though, be­lieves the Li­ons can ben­e­fit from Eng­land dom­i­nat­ing squad se­lec­tion, even if it means some re­place­ments be­ing cho­sen ahead of Celtic starters.

“How many will go on the Li­ons tour? Well, I am hop­ing 20-plus. I want to see a record. I want our side to be by far the dom­i­nant force in the Li­ons and that will be a con­se­quence of them play­ing well for Eng­land,” Jones said.

Asked for his con­fi­dence in that pre­dic­tion hav­ing toured the coun­try watch­ing Premier­ship matches since the league’s restart, Jones replied: “One hun­dred per cent.”

That, how­ever, is pred­i­cated on Eng­land’s play­ers sur­viv­ing the sea­son from hell which in­cludes mid­week matches, an ex­tended au­tumn in­ter­na­tional win­dow and lit­tle to no respite. Apart from Sara­cens’ large con­tin­gent, in­clud­ing

cap­taincy con­tenders Owen Farrell and Maro Itoje, who will be spared some of those rigours by rel­e­ga­tion to the Cham­pi­onship, many Eng­land play­ers would do well to get through the sea­son in one piece.

Jones, how­ever, has promised in­creased co-op­er­a­tion be­tween Eng­land and clubs over the man­age­ment of player train­ing and load. “The cir­cum­stances dic­tate it’s a dif­fi­cult sea­son,” he said. “I think the plan­ning be­tween the clubs and us will re­sult in our play­ers be­ing in as good a con­di­tion as they can be. It’s al­ways tricky. But that’s the chal­lenge we have in English rugby and that’s the op­por­tu­nity to get it right.

“The other bonus is we are see­ing all th­ese good play­ers get­ting op­por­tu­ni­ties they pos­si­bly wouldn’t get. That’s go­ing to push them for­ward and it’s go­ing to cre­ate more com­pe­ti­tion for places, which is fan­tas­tic.”

De­spite tout­ing his young­sters, Jones says he will not use the au­tumn Eight Na­tions Cham­pi­onship as an op­por­tu­nity to ex­per­i­ment with se­lec­tion.

“Test match rugby is about win­ning and get­ting play­ers to win,” Jones said. “At the same time, within the squad, we are iden­ti­fy­ing those young play­ers who we think can be bet­ter than the play­ers in the squad now.”

Pre­pared: The Li­ons could ben­e­fit from Maro Itoje’s club sched­ule next sea­son

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