Dublin: Eddie Jones has backed the Rugby Football Union’s bid to entice New Zealand to play against England this autumn, claiming he would welcome the prospect of testing his side against the world champions despite seeing their hopes of a Grand Slam and world record ended by the defeat against Ireland on Saturday.
Ireland’s 13-9 victory at the Aviva Stadium denied England the chance to win a first back-to-back clean sweep since Will Carling’s 1992 side and to set a world record of 19 Test wins in a row. The defeat leaves England with a share of the record set by New Zealand before they, too, lost against Ireland, in Chicago last November, but Jones now wants his side to go head-to-head with the All Blacks, with negotiations ongoing about setting up a fixture outside the Test window in November.
The RFU board is due to meet on Wednesday to decide whether to approve a game between New Zealand and the Barbarians at Twickenham on November 4, which could be critical to hopes of England also playing the world’s No. 1 side. “If that much mooted game comes across, we are very keen to play them and will be raring to go,” said Jones.
“There’s a lot of discussions to go. You’ve got discussions with New Zealand. You’ve got discussions with the England rugby community to go, so there’s still a fair bit of work. If the opportunity comes up, we’ll be raring to go.”
Jones said he expected at least 15 of his squad to make the British and Irish Lions squad for the tour of New Zealand this summer after their second successive Six Nations title victory and claimed Warren Gatland’s side had a great chance of a first series victory over the All Blacks since 1971. “I would be disappointed if we didn’t have that many in the squad,” said Jones.
“I think they have a massive shout and, as Ireland showed, they are there for the taking — and we can’t wait to play them either.”
Jones remained in buoyant mood despite the disappointment of his side’s failure to clinch a second successive Grand Slam. “We are Six Nations champions, back-to-back, which is a fantastic achievement,” said Jones. “We’re joint world record holders, but we weren’t good enough [against Ireland]. And we have to accept we weren’t good enough. Next time we get together as the full squad will be in November and we’ll look to right what happened.”
There could be further bad news for England, however, with Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt indicating his team would review footage from the game amid claims fly-half Jonathan Sexton was targeted with a number of dangerous tackles.
Rory Best, the Ireland captain, raised the issue with referee Jerome Garces during the game, saying “it is my responsibility to protect my players”. Warren Gatland, the British and Irish Lions head coach, was also there to watch England’s defeat and it appears to have harmed Dylan Hartley’s chances of even making the squad bound for New Zealand.
“They [England] rate Jamie George highly and there’s a huge amount of competition in a number of positions, particularly in England,” Gatland said. “When you look at the captain, if I was going to pick a Test team tomorrow you want to be picking a captain of the Lions who you’re reasonably confident will be in the Test team. That’s one of the criteria’s — it’s not a guarantee but it is a criteria.
“Dylan’s done a really good job but he knows he’s under pressure from Jamie George, and a lot of people rate Jamie highly. That’s going to be interesting for us and there’s also Rory Best who’s done well with Ireland, Ken Owens had a good Six Nations for Wales — there’s a fair bit of competition about the captaincy and also the hooker position.”
Gatland hinted that Sam Warburton, who was his captain for the successful 2013 tour of Australia, had played himself into contention for the captaincy, saying: “He’s had a great Six Nations.”