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