Eddie Jones has urged England’s players to seize their grand slam opportunity in Paris on Saturday as he looks to turn them into “the strongest team in the world” by 2019.
Jones believes his side can enhance their chances of selection for next year’s British and Irish Lions tour and impress their big southern hemisphere rivals if they smash France to complete a first Six Nations clean sweep for 13 years.
In the past England have had a tendency to stumble at the last but, with his squad already assured of winning this season’s title, Jones feels a grand slam would prove beyond doubt they have recovered from their World Cup disappointments last autumn. “If you don’t win trophies you are always talking about what is going to happen next,” said the Australian. “If you win trophies it just gives everyone more confidence. A grand slam gives you the right to beat your chest a little bit.”
Regardless of the outcome of the finale at the Stade de France, Jones has ruled himself out of the race to coach the Lions next summer.
“The whole point is winning the World Cup; for me to make England the strongest team in the world I’ve got to spend every minute I can on that.”
He is hoping, nevertheless, that several of his players and staff will tour New Zealand. “I’d be quite happy for our staff to go because some of them would definitely benefit from the Lions tour. If we’re where we need to be when the Lions squad is announced then I’d also hope we have a lion’s share of that representation. That would show we are developing as a team. If you can graduate from your national side and play well for the Lions you are on the way to being a world-class player.”
While Jones currently has different priorities, he also continues to believe that Wales’s Warren Gatland is the obvious appointment for 2017.
“If you look at Europe rugby over the last period of time, he’s by far the most accomplished coach and I think after the last Lions tour he deserves it. I find it difficult to understand why there’s a debate over it.” As for England’s Parisian assignment, Jones is warning the visitors to beware pre-match disruption and possible Gallic dirty tricks.
“Everyone’s got to be on their toes. If we get a smaller warm-up space, if the marching band starts walking into our warm-up, if they let loose 15 cockerels … we’re going to have to round them up, put them back in their cage and get on with the warm-up. For us that first 20 minutes is crucial. If you look at the papers everyone outside the English doesn’t want England to win. The French are going to be doing their absolute utmost to make sure we don’t win.
“It’s like when you go out and play South Africa. I’ll always remember going there in 2003 to play on Nelson Mandela’s birthday. The bus comes late, we’re late to the ground, there’s spears going through the wall during the warm-up, everything you can think of. We get back to the dressing room after the worst possible warm-up and who’s sitting in a golf cart in front of our dressing room? Nelson Mandela.
“No one can tell him to leave, obviously, so we have to wait outside the dressing room. We got back in just in time to come out again. I would imagine all that is going to happen. Well, probably not Nelson Mandela but maybe Charles de Gaulle or someone. We’ve got to be good enough to cope with it all.”
England really should seal the deal against a spluttering French team and their captain, Dylan Hartley, says his players are determined to rise to the occasion. “We’ve got the championship, but unless we win this weekend, it’s going to leave a pretty sour taste,” admitted the hooker, who was involved in England’s grand slam disappointments in Dublin in 2011 and Cardiff in 2013 and missed last autumn’s World Cup through suspension.
“From the outset we said we wanted to be the most dominant team in Europe and to me that is winning every game. If anything the intensity has gone up.
“I think we need to win to achieve our ultimate goal and I know we have the players in the squad with the desire to go one further.” Before last weekend, England had claimed only one Six Nations title since 2003.
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