The British & Irish Lions coaching staff is set to include no members of the England setup for the first time this century with Warren Gatland due to confirm his assistants for the tour of South Africa next week.
The England defence coach, John Mitchell, was thought to be under consideration and Eddie Jones said in December that he would encourage his assistants to join the Lions staff if asked, confirming “there had been contact”. South Africa-born Matt Proudfoot was also previously seen as a potential contender, given his intricate knowledge of the Springboks, but it is understood Gatland is set to turn elsewhere.
That, in turn, could be significant when it comes to squad selection. Jones had hoped for about 20 of his squad to go to South Africa but their fifth-place finish in the Six Nations – which featured defeats by Wales, Scotland and Ireland in the same year for the first time since 1976 – has seemingly dented the chances of a number of England players. Gatland has also said that if England-based players are unavailable for the warm-up Test against Japan on 26 June – as per Premiership Rugby regulations – it may harm their chances of selection in a slimmed down 36-man squad.
Gatland is expected to appoint Gregor Townsend as his attack coach and is likely to stick by Steve Borthwick (forwards), Graham Rowntree (scrum) and Neil Jenkins (kicking) with an emphasis on continuity. His defence coach has been less clear but with Mitchell – well known to Gatland from their time together at Waikato – set to miss out it would suggest Andy Farrell is the favourite to reprise the role for a third straight tour.
While Borthwick, Rowntree and Farrell have previously been employed as England coaches, none of Gatland’s expected assistants is on Jones’s staff. It could be the first time no England coaches have been selected since 1997 and even then Fran Cotton was the tour manager and Dave Alred had been working with the Rugby Football Union on a consultancy basis.
Having been an integral part of the previous two tours, Farrell seemed an obvious choice for the coming trip to South Africa but his duties as Ireland head coach have threatened to be a stumbling block. Ireland are due to tour the Pacific Islands this summer, though there is uncertainty that will go ahead.