Whilst Eddie Jones has spent the summer working with the country’s next generation of exciting talent, coming away from the notoriously hostile environment of Argentina with a 2-0 series win, much of his core of senior players have been battling it out with New Zealand’s finest, which is great news for the men in white.
Inevitably, the build-up to the next edition of the Rugby World Cup in 2019 will centre around New Zealand: the world’s best team, the current holders and the only side to have ever win back-to-back titles.
That the Lions go into the third Test with the possibility of a series win would have been almost unthinkable a few months back, but much of the good work of the first and second Test has come from England’s cohort and that can only be useful for Jones.
Jamie George, Maro Itoje, Courtney Lawes, Elliot Daly and Anthony Watson have all enhanced their credentials as top internationals, capable of competing and beating the very best, whilst the likes of Mako Vunipola, Owen Farrell and George Kruis have had solid if not spectacular tours.maro
Kyle Sinckler, who needs to work on his temperament, has developed well throughout both the provincial games and the Test series, may well push stalwart Dan Cole out of the selection equation come the autumn.
For Jack Nowell, James Haskell and Jonathan Joseph, perhaps they have not had the tour they would have hoped for, but they will have learnt so much from it and that can only be a positive moving forward.
Coach Steve Borthwick’s involvement can also only be a good thing for his progress as a coach as well. Having spent time with the likes of Warren Gatland and Andy Farrell as well as the best players across the British Isles will serve to improve him as a coach.
And so when Eddie Jones comes to announce his revised EPS squad later this year, he will have a very tough job on his hands. How do you merge the previous squad with the vibrancy of the youngsters who took their opportunities so well this summer?
Should Haskell and Tom Wood be kept at the expense of the dynamic trio of Sam Underhill and the Curry brothers? Does Dylan Hartley deserve to stay on as captain when his understudy is already starting for the Lions against the All Blacks? How do you fit at least five quality locks into one squad? Will Owen Farrell continue as England’s 12 or should the likes of Piers Francis, Alex Lozowski or even Harry Mallinder be given their shot? Who will start at 10: the brilliant attacking mind of Ford or the ice-cold focus of Farrell?
Jones has already spoken of a plan to rest big name stars for the autumn to give them a break after a gruelling few years that has seen many players pushed to their very limits week in and week out. Should he stick to this plan, how will it affect his squad selection?
Regardless of what happens this Saturday, this Lions tour has been incredibly beneficial to England. The disappointing loss to Ireland at the tail end of the Six Nations has firmly been put to bed now, and all fans of the men in white can move on with the rest of 2017 likely to be an even more entertaining chapter in the Jones era.
Paul Wassell, Pundit Arena