Ignoring the distraction of the summer’s British & Irish Lions tour is England’s biggest challenge ahead of the Six Nations, according to Eddie Jones.
Jones has moved to shore up England’s on-field visual skills with the appointment of specialist coach Sherylle Calder, but he is wary of his squad having one eye on securing a spot on the Lions tour.
“Every day there’s a discussion about who wants to be a Lion and people dreaming about becoming a Lion,” Jones said. “It’s a massive distraction.
England coach Eddie Jones has also named three uncapped players in his party for the Six Nations.
Eddie Jones has cited England’s lack of leaders as one of the biggest stumbling blocks to winning the 2019 World Cup.
Scotland and Edinburgh prop WP Nel will miss the upcoming Six Nations Championship with a neck injury.
“It’s a distraction for the players but it’s a great attraction for rugby. It’s one of the greatest things in world rugby a Lions tour. It’s something we’ve got to hold dear.
“But the players have got to understand it’s a consequence of playing well for England. If they play well for England they’re going to get selected for the Lions.
“If England win the Six Nations and play good rugby then [Lions coach Warren] Gatland has to pick our players. They’ll get selected. We’ve spoken about it but we’ll need to speak about it again. That’s going to be a constant.”
The distraction of the Lions has been on Jones’ radar for a while. He has studied the after-effects of the tour on players and may rest those who feature prominently for the Lions during England’s end-of-year Tests.
Dodging complacency is married to the pitfalls of losing concentration. The sole focus of Jones’ news conference on Friday was on their Six Nations opener against France, rather than the other foes that lie in wait in the championship; their final game against Ireland is already being billed as a potential Grand Slam decider.
He is trying to anchor England in the here and now. Those absent will be given little thought and the focus will be on the 34-man squad which travels to Portugal on Sunday for their pre-championship camp. Jones will whittle down selection to the probable 23 that will face France on Feb. 4 while there.
“Every time someone comes up to you on the street they come up to you and say that you must be fascinated about the game against Ireland because they’re going well,” Jones said. “Well Ireland isn’t a concern for us, but if you keep in hearing that then that can get into the back of your head and become a distraction.
“So we’ve got a lot of distractions in front of us and part of our job as a coaching staff, management staff and the senior players in Portugal is to make sure at the start of the camp in Portugal is to make sure that we get the focus right and that’s beating France.”
England will monitor George Kruis, James Haskell, Dylan Hartley and Joe Marler’s fitness in Portugal. Jones will also look to determine his pecking order on the wings with Anthony Watson and Jonny May vying for one spot and Jack Nowell battling Marland Yarde for the other.
Mike Brown is still first choice fullback but Jones hopes both Elliot Daly and Watson will challenge him for the No.15 shirt.
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Eddie Jones warns England over Lions distraction
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