Eddie Jones: Lions must not play like Warren Gatland's Wales if they want to beat All Blacks
The British and Irish Lions leave for New Zealand on Monday morning with a warning from England head coach Eddie Jones that the Wales influence on the squad and tactics will make it “very tough” for them to win the series.
Speaking exclusively to The Telegraph’s podcast “Brian Moore’s Full Contact”, Jones questioned whether the All Blacks would be threatened by the one-dimensional, physical game plan that Lions head coach Warren Gatland has previously employed for Wales.
Last year, Wales lost their series against New Zealand 3-0, and with Gatland putting a premium on size over skill in his squad selections, Jones is pessimistic about the Lions’ fortunes.
“I think it’s going to be very tough for them,” Jones told Moore. “I think they’ve picked a certain style of team based on the influence of the Welsh coaches, so I think they’re looking to attack like Wales, with big gain-line runners, with not much ball movement, and I think you struggle to beat the All Blacks like that.
“It’s not only a big physical contest, it’s also a big mental contest. You’ve got to be very disciplined in the way you play, you’ve got to chip away at them and you’ve got to keep the pressure on, you’ve got to exert pressure in areas that they don’t like, which is traditionally the close set-piece plays, and then have the ability, when you create opportunities, to turn that into points.
“Ireland did it really well [against New Zealand] and I think the Lions are going to struggle. Look, if they win the first Test they may win the series. If they don’t then I think it will be a tough old series.”
Asked to elaborate on what different approach his England team would adopt against the All Blacks, Jones responded: “Philosophically, Wales play much differently to us, they’re concerned about width, they’re concerned about having a system of their play.
“We’re trying to play much more with our eyes, so it’s a lot more about reading the defence and reading the speed of the ball and then having players organised enough to be in a position to take those opportunities, and then generally rather than trying to get around defences, play through them.”
Jones will have to wait until next year to put those principles into practice. An attempt to stage a fixture against the world champions this autumn previously fell through and Jones made plain his disappointment that he has only one fixture against New Zealand before a potential meeting in the semi-finals of the 2019 World Cup.
“I would love to play them every month,” Jones said. “The more you play against the best team the more you learn where you need to improve, and they’re the best team in the world, and until you play them you never know where the gaps are, where you need to work on, or where you’re better than they are.”
Fifteen members of Jones’s Six Nations-winning squad will fly to New Zealand. The remainder, including captain Dylan Hartley, full-back Mike Brown and lock Joe Launchbury, will be heading to Argentina for a two-Test series against the Pumas. Yet Jones was short on sympathy when asked what his message would be to those who missed out on Lions selection.
“Stump up mate,” Jones said. “I think if you haven’t been picked in the Lions, and 41 players go, there’s something in your game that’s not good enough. You can be angry, but you’ve got to do something about it and make sure you work on your game to improve it and make sure that, if the Lions was picked again in 12 months’ time, there wouldn’t be second thoughts about picking you.”