England coach Eddie Jones has promised to end his criticism of the British and Irish Lions after dismissing hopes that Warren Gatland's side will stage a shock series win over New Zealand this summer. The Australian believes the squad selected by Gatland and his predominantly Welsh-coaching team, as well the tactics he will likely adopt, will be no match for the double world champions when the sides face each other in three tests starting later this month.
The Lions laboured to victory in their opening game of the tour against the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians in Whangarei, just three days after arriving in the country following the Premiership and Pro12 finals. Anthony Watson scored the only try in a 13-7 success, but a much-improved display is expected when the tourists face Super 12 side the Blues on Wednesday (7 June).
Gatland's strategy in New Zealand will focus on an approach that has been coined 'Warrenball', with the onus on breaking the gain-line but possessing little creativity and guile. Despite 15 England players making the 41-man squad, Jones believes the Lions will "struggle to beat the All Blacks like that", and unless they can win the opening test in Auckland on 24 June they are facing an emphatic series defeat. But the 57-year-old has decided to end his criticism of the team and issued a typically droll response to further questions regarding the Lions' fortunes.
"I think I have said enough," said Jones, speaking ahead of England's first test against Argentina in San Juan this weekend. "I am dropping out of that debate; I am a bit like Theresa May." The quip relates to the Prime Minister's decision not to engage in television debates with leaders of the other political parties – including Labour's Jeremy Corbyn – in the United Kingdom ahead of the general election on 8 June.
But as scrutiny over the Lions' style of play continues, Gatland has once again been forced to defend his philosophy ahead of the second of 10 matches in New Zealand this summer. The Kiwi led the Lions to their first series win in 16 years in Australia in 2013 and is a two-time grand slam winner with Wales, and feels disapproval of his tactics is unfair.
"What do you mean by one way? When did that way start? You don't know the answer to that do you?" Gatland said. "I kind of look and go: 'Was is it when we were successful at Wasps or when I was coaching Waikako to the Air New Zealand Cup?' I don't know, when did a certain style change? If you can tell me the answer to that I will answer the question when the time frame is appropriate – then I can potentially give you an answer.
"Look, a few years ago [former England attack coach] Brian Smith coined a phrase 'Warrenball' and I don't know whether that was because he was jealous of how much success we had. We had a group of players who came through Wales at the time who ended up being pretty big physical players. The modern game of rugby is about getting across the gainline, trying to get front-foot ball and playing to space if that is possible. If you can get me when things started to change, I don't know."