England assured over Lions selection
England coach Stuart Lancaster has received reassurances from Warren Gatland that selection for the British and Irish Lions tour will be based on merit alone.
Gatland had said in an interview with the Evening Standard that taking a lot of English players on the tour of Australia could lead to a media circus and bring unwanted pressure on the Lions. But Gatland always stressed that the "best players would always be selected" - and he emphasised that position to Lancaster during a pre-arranged visit to England's training camp.
"I've had a good chat with Warren and he re-assured me that selection would be based on merit. I've obviously relayed that to the squad and I'm comfortable with that," Lancaster said.
Lancaster has worked hard to change the culture of the England team since replacing Martin Johnson as head coach and he believes any concerns over the players' behaviour are outdated.
"It does not reflect where we are at the moment. From my point of view the players' behaviour has been excellent both on the field and off the field," Lancaster said "Personally, I've no concern whatever that the players will behave in a professional manner both on the field and off the field.
"I listen to what people say, but I take my view from what's actually happening."
Gatland has been impressed by the work Lancaster has done in rebuilding the England team following that World Cup, to the point where they are now front-runners in the RBS 6 Nations.
Lancaster's assistant coaches Graham Rowntree and Andy Farrell will be part of Gatland's Lions management team and there could also be a strong English playing contingent in Australia this summer.
"I had a great welcome and after sitting down with Stuart Lancaster and his coaches for a chat I was able to sit in on the debrief of the win over Ireland in Dublin. It was well presented by all the coaches, it was interesting and very insightful," Gatland said.
"I had spent time the week before with the Welsh players, and will do the same with the Scots next week and the Irish the week after."