Eddie Jones has urged his England stars to continue playing their way into British and Irish Lions contention when they face France in Sunday’s Autumn Nations Cup final.
Jones hopes to supply a 20-strong contingent to next summer’s tour to South Africa in the knowledge that such substantial representation would be a result of English success on the pitch.
Victory in the 2020 Six Nations and the possibility of another trophy being lifted at Twickenham come the climax of the autumn has placed a host of England stars in pole position to win a place in Warren Gatland’s squad.
Next year’s Championship will provide the most influential stage to press claims and Jones is thinking selfishly when recalling the impact made by flankers Sam Underhill and Tom Curry in Argentina in 2017 when his leading players were performing for Gatland.
“We see this Lions tour as an opportunity for us to grow another layer of depth,” said Jones, who will lead England on a two-Test tour to Canada and the United States in July.
“It’s an opportunity for some younger guys to gain experience with England and to see whether they can adapt to international rugby. That’s the exciting thing for us.
“When I say I would like us to have 20 players on the Lions tour, in some ways it is almost selfish because we would like the opportunity to bring younger guys in to create greater depth in the squad.
“We want to make sure we are the dominant team in Europe and if you are the dominant team in Europe then you dominate Lions selection. That would be a great individual recognition of the players’ efforts.
“But we have got this game on Sunday and then the Six Nations, so there are still plenty of balls to face before you get to that selection headache.”
Jones’ willingness to assist the Lions’ quest against the world champions over three Tests in July and August extends to allowing his coaching lieutenants to join Gatland’s management team.
Defence coach John Mitchell and forwards coach Matt Proudfoot have enjoyed stellar years and could be recruited for the South Africa tour.
“There has been contact. Warren has gone round the unions and chatted to the CEOs about potential staff,” Jones said.
“We are open to any opportunity for our staff and coaches to grow. We will wait and see.
“We saw the benefits of it with Steve Borthwick going on the Lions tour in 2017 and coming back having added more to his coaching repertoire. We would certainly be open to those ideas.”
At the front of the queue of England players making a compelling case for Lions selection is Maro Itoje, a leading candidate for the captaincy who will spearhead the challenge against a shadow France side at Twickenham on Sunday.
Itoje has an array of medals gathered from Saracens and England duty and he knows the value of building a dynasty of success, with the Autumn Nations Cup the latest shot at glory.
“Winning trophies creates a special memory, whether that’s in Premiership A-team competition, LV Cup, Premiership or the Champions Cup,” Itoje said.
“But especially international rugby… it creates memories and bonds that you will remember forever and we have the opportunity to do something special because this is the first autumn cup and who knows if there will be another one.
“That memory would bind us and we would be able to look back in however many years’ time and realise we had done something special.”