Eddie Jones has ruled out any prospect of him coaching the British & Irish Lions next year, despite having guided England to an unprecedented series win over the Wallabies.
The Australian says he wants to focus on turning England into the top side in the world but expects a sizeable red rose contingent to tour New Zealand in 2017.
While Wales’s Warren Gatland has long been the favourite to coach the Lions next year, having fronted the successful 2013 tour to Australia, Jones’s remarkable success since taking the job at Twickenham theoretically makes him a candidate. The former Japan coach insists, however, that he is “completely unavailable” even if a role were dangled in front of him.
“I signed a four-year contract to make England the best team in the world and I’m going to spend every minute I have doing that,” stressed Jones, whose side have secured an unbeatable 2-0 lead in the best-of-three series after defeating Australia 23-7 in Melbourne. “If I took the Lions job I’d have to spend anything from six to 12 months not doing that.”
Ian Ritchie, the Rugby Football Union’s chief executive, has already advised the Lions’ committee that Jones will be concentrating on his England duties, although he has not ruled out releasing one of the assistant coaches for the tour. “Eddie does not want to do it and we want him to stay to coach England,” Ritchie said. “Both us of feel that, between now and 2019, Eddie’s focus is on the World Cup and nothing will change that.”
It is Jones’s firm belief, though, that England will be represented by “at least” 15 players when the Lions select their squad next year. “I’d be hopeful of missing at least 15,” he suggested. “If we can get 15 in the Lions squad we’ll have had a good Six Nations and good November Tests.”
Jones is also keen to ensure England finish their tour of Australia on a high note by wrapping up a 3-0 series win in Sydney. He may have to rest some battered players in the wake of a brutally physical second Test in Melbourne, with James Haskell nursing a sore foot and Jack Nowell undergoing concussion protocols.
“There’ll be a few changes,” Jones said. “When I looked at the team on Saturday there were some guys there with only 80 minutes in them. They’ve been up since June last year and some are starting to show some signs of battle weariness.”
It could offer an opening for players such as Jack Clifford, Teimana Harrison, Danny Care and Alex Goode but, equally, Jones is wary of complacency as his squad recuperate in their new beachside base in Coogee. “If the All Blacks were here they’d be able to make five changes and go out and beat the opposition 3-0. We’ll have to work because everyone is going to get slaps on the back now and their agents are going to be on the phone saying: ‘Now we can get you this deal.’ We’ve got to make sure we find 23 players who can fix their minds on the job. I’ll be cheering for Australia during the Rugby Championship but we want to beat them 3-0.”
This certainly has the makings of an enjoyable week for Jones, who grew up in Sydney and has been buoyed by England’s spirit in the face of an aggressive Wallaby display at the weekend. “They tried to put us off the game and get us involved in a scragging contest,” claimed Jones, who used to play alongside the Australia head coach, Michael Cheika, at Randwick. “We didn’t allow ourselves to get involved in that. As soon as Cheika talked about niggle, we knew that was going to be on. They obviously went out to target a few players. Sekope Kepu went at Maro Itoje the whole game. He thought he was going to be the Mr Hard Man. Our discipline in maintaining a commitment to play the ball rather than the man – a lot of it is due to Dylan Hartley’s captaincy.”
England also drew inspiration from a poem, The Guy In The Glass by Dale Wimbrow, which the defence coach, Paul Gustard, read to the players in the buildup. Gustard told the squad he regretted aspects of his own playing career and urged them to give everything to the England cause. “I told them that I had lots of opportunities in life, both off and on the field, and I wasted most of them,” Gustard said. “I thought I trained and worked hard but I didn’t.”
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010