England head coach Eddie Jones admits that he is unsure what reaction his players will receive if they choose to take a knee in their summer matches but has urged supporters to show respect.
Jones admitted that his squad have previously had “a difficult conversation” around the subject with the players unable to reach a unified position.
While the majority of England players have taken a knee before matches in recognition of the fight against racism, several prominent stars including Courtney Lawes and Billy Vunipola have chosen to remain standing. Aside from the presence of 2,000 supporters for the Autumn Nations Cup final in December, England have not played in front of spectators since players started the gesture.
With the issue proving divisive before England football matches, Jones is hoping that does not spill into the Test matches his much-changed side face this summer against USA and Canada at Twickenham as well as an ‘A’ international against Scotland at Welford Road.
“In all of this what we are trying to do is respect diversity and that’s such an important part of not only a sporting team but society,” Jones said.
“In terms of the fans, we don’t control how they behave. I would like the fans to respect the players’ decision. That’s how I would like it to be. Whether it will be, I am not sure.
“I think the most important part of this is respect. Respect is so important. I know the team for the previous Six Nations had a difficult conversation because there are guys with all sorts of different views and their ability to respect what they think is right was important. I know the team decided that everyone would do what they thought was right. I only have admiration for that strength of diversity which I think is important.”
Jones leans on Gareth Southgate for advice on ‘creating team environment’
After a Six Nations campaign in which England struggled to adapt to life in the Covid-19 bubble, Jones has revealed that he is tapping into a sporting brains trust, which includes his footballing counterpart Gareth Southgate.
Jones on Thursday announced a preliminary 34-man squad, which includes 21 uncapped players, for the A international against Scotland A and the Tests against USA and Canada. With 12 players absent on Lions duty, a cohort of senior players rested, including half-backs George Ford and Ben Youngs, and those involved in play-off action not currently available for selection, there are just a handful of players left over from a Six Nations campaign in which England finished fifth.
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The Rugby Football Union’s debrief into that campaign prominently referenced the effects of dealing with the Covid-19 protocols “in some cases greater than other Unions (which) had a significant impact on coaching and support staff as well as the playing squad cohesion”. This is a problem that coaches across many different sports have encountered and Jones has joined forces with Southgate and others to share their perspectives.
“We had a great group with Gareth, David Moyes, Arsene Wenger, couple of NBA guys, couple of NFL guys and we got together every four weeks to chew the fat,” Jones said. “Particularly of late it has been about how we are going to handle the Covid regulations. It is just about how the players are handling the difficulties of being in a team camp where the high performance is sometimes compromised by the medical regulation and how we are all looking to best adapt to that.”
Both Jones and Southgate took the reins in 2016 and have developed a close relationship with both inviting each other to observe their training camps. Jones, who also counts Belgium manager Roberto Martinez as a confidant, has been particularly impressed by the way in which Southgate has moulded a team culture from the disparate elements of the Premier League.
“They have been very inventive in creating their team environment and we have learnt a lot from them,” Jones said. “He’s got the same difficulties that we have got. He’s got players who have come from a number of different clubs who are arch rivals and you have to pull them together quickly. Part of that is creating a good team environment where there are enough social activities so they interact and learn more about each other. He’s been really useful in that way.”