SYDNEY, Australia — The Rugby Football Union and Eddie Jones have ruled out any chance of the England coach taking charge of the British & Irish Lions for next year’s series in New Zealand.
Jones’ odds of becoming the next Lions coach shortened after their series win in Australia but he has always said he has no interest in taking charge of the famous tourists in 2017 and is committed to England. This stance was reiterated in the wake of their 23-7 triumph in Melbourne, a victory that cemented England’s first ever series win on Australian soil.
When asked whether he would be interested in the Lions, Jones said he is “completely unavailable”. He added: “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. If I took the Lions job, I’d have to spend anything from six to 12 months not doing that.”
Jones’ stance was echoed by RFU chief executive Ian Ritchie, who also sits on the Lions’ board, who said: “Eddie does not want to do it.”
“I cannot put it more categorically,” Ritchie added. “It is a mutual thing. Both us of feel this way that between now and 2019, Eddie’s focus is on the World Cup and nothing will change that.”
Ritchie said this position will not change even if the sabbatical period the Lions coach is required to take is waived or reduced.
However, while Jones is out of the running, the RFU could release assistant coaches Paul Gustard or Steve Borthwick for Lions duty.
Ritchie says talk of them forming part of the backroom staff is “premature” but the RFU has form in this regard, having released then-England coaches Andy Farrell and Graham Rowntree to the Lions in 2013.
“That would be a matter to discuss with Eddie,” Ritchie said. “But we have not gone into that so it is certainly not as clear as the position with Eddie.”
The selection panel that will decide the Lions coach will meet in early July with the hope of making an appointment by the end of the month and an announcement in early September. Wales coach Warren Gatland is the favourite but John Feehan, the Lions’ chief executive, recently revealed the other home union coaches are in the mix.
“It’s still open, wide open,” Feehan said in Wellington last week. “The interviews are in early July, selection will be completed in July and we’d hope to announce in the second week of September.
“It doesn’t necessarily have to be a national coach, but it’s likely to be. [Ireland coach] Joe Schmidt has been very successful in South Africa and to be fair to Warren [Gatland], he had a very good 60 minutes against the All Blacks [in the first Test of Wales’ June series]. I would say the honours are roughly even at this stage. It’s pretty obvious which individuals we’ll be going to.”
Whoever takes charge of the Lions is likely to call on a number of England players if they continue this remarkable run of form. If they are picked, they would be ruled out of contention for England’s tour of Argentina and Jones expects to be missing “at least 15” players when they journey to play the Pumas.
ESPN.com – RUGBY