Eddie Jones has urged his players to win 15 places on the Lions touring party.
Although Eddie Jones has consistently distanced himself from leading the Lions to New Zealand in the summer of 2017, speaking on Talksport 2 yesterday, he urged his players to claim 15 places on the touring party.
In an interesting and wide ranging interview, Jones told Ian Stafford, ‘As much as I’d like to coach the Lions, I’ll be going to Argentina with England in June 2017, hopefully with a very weakened team’.
Instead Jones argued that he could best contribute to the Lions by providing 15 England players to the touring party.
My contribution to the Lions is to make sure we’ve got 15 players to make the Lions strong.
While such a bullish attitude will no doubt anger some Irish, Welsh and Scottish fans, Jones is most likely using the Lions tour to further motivate his players.
This would seem to be consistent with his recent comments, when Jones claimed that there were four or five players who had shown the wrong attitude since winning the Grand Slam.
Indeed, in the interview on Talksport, Jones once more highlighted the fact that his players have to maintain their standards while playing for their clubs.
Nevertheless, having 15 players included in the Lions squad would be some turn around for England, after only eight were selected in 2009 and 10 in 2013.
After captaining England to Grand Slam success, Dylan Hartley must be regarded as a shoe to start for the Lions.
Given that WP Nel will most likely start, Cole could be set to travel as one of a number of reserve tightheads.
Like Cole, Joe Marler is currently positioned behind rivals such as Jack McGrath and Alasdair Dickinson. However the Harlequins player could force his inclusion provided, he addresses his disciplinary issues.
Like Hartley, only serious injury could scupper Itoje’s chances of starting.
Before the Six Nations many commentators felt that George Kruis had fallen behind Itoje, Joe Launchbury and Courtney Lawes in the England pecking order.
However the Saracens lock established himself in the England side during the Championship and looks set for Lions inclusion.
Although Joe Launchbury was one of the few players to emerge from the World Cup with any credit, his form has since dipped.
Nevertheless, the Wasps lock remains a quality player, but will have to fight off competition from Scotland’s Gray Brothers.
Billy Vunipola is arguably the game’s in form number eight at the moment and will start in New Zealand for the Lions.
Missed out on Lions selection while playing at openside, but Robshaw’s switch to six could see him included in what will be a very competitive backrow.
Having previously toured with the Lions in 2013, Ben Youngs should be able to retain his place in the Lions squad.
Although Eddie Jones selected Owen Farrell at 12 throughout the Six Nations, the return of Manu Tuilagi should see the Saracens man return to fly half.
The competition between Farrell, Johnny Sexton and Dan Biggar for a starting place will be interesting in itself.
Having missed out on playing a significant role during the Six Nations, Manu Tuilagi will be eager to lay down a marker against Australia this summer before taking his place in the Lions squad.
Despite Jonathan Joseph’s undoubted talent, he will face tough competition from Robbie Henshaw, Jonathan Davies and Mark Bennet.
However, his pace and soft hands should see him make the squad at the expense of others.
As the best finisher in the northern hemisphere, barring injury, Anthony Watson will be included.
Although Jack Nowell may not be as quick as some of his rivals, his work rate is second to none and he can cover a number of positions.
Therefore, while he may not start, Nowell is likely to be included.
While Stuart Hogg is expected to start for the Lions, the competition to provide a backup option for the Scotsman is intense.
However as Leigh Halfpenny has yet to return from injury and Rob Kearney is suffering through a period of poor form, the door is open for Brown, but he will face competition from the likes of Liam Williams.
Alan Drumm, Pundit Arena
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