England coach Eddie Jones is planning to use the loss of several key players to the British and Irish Lions’ tour in New Zealand this year as an opportunity to build strength in depth ahead of the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
With a number England players likely to be included in the Lions squad bidding to beat the All Blacks for the first time since 1971, Jones will be forced to make changes during the November internationals to avoid burnout.
“The only part of 2017 I can really control is the Six Nations, all our focus is on that. Post Six Nations we are going to lose 10 to 15 of our players to the Lions,” Jones told the Daily Mail.
“Maybe those players won’t play for us in the November (internationals) because they will have played probably twice the number of post-season games they will normally have played. We don’t have to rest them.
“But speaking to a number of players who have been on Lions tours, they found those November matches to be the hardest – so I think we have to be smart about it. I look on 2017 as a massive opportunity to increase the depth of the squad.”
Australian Jones, a former Wallabies coach, has extended England’s run to 14 successive victories, four short of the record the All Blacks set last year before losing to Ireland.
“If we can sit down in the last week of November and say we have got 45 guys who can play Test rugby at the level that will be required at the 2019 World Cup, then this year will have been an enormous year for us,” Jones added.
“And if we lose a few battles on the way, it will help us win the war. We had a camp back in August when we interviewed all the players about their ambitions for 2017 and out of the 45 players attending, only one player spoke about the Lions.
“Most of the players want to play for England first but they realise that a consequence of playing well for England is that they might get to tour for the Lions.” (Reporting by Shravanth Vijayakumar in Bengaluru, editing by Ed Osmond)