Dylan Hartley: England squad focused on autumn internationals, not 2017 Lions tour

England rugby team in Australia
Dylan Hartley led England to their first ever tour victory in Australia in June

England skipper Dylan Hartley has urged his players not to become pre-occupied with the British and Irish Lions tour of New Zealand next summer.

After captaining England to nine victories in a row this year, Hartley is favourite for the Lions job in 2017.

But after meeting for a short camp last weekend, Hartley insists all the focus is on England's November opener against South Africa.

"Every player has that in the back of their mind," Hartley told BBC Sport.

"Lions selection comes off the back of playing well for your country, so at the moment everyone's focus should be on playing well for their clubs and getting picked for England.

"You are always judged on your next performance, so I just want to play well for my club and be in [the frame for] selection for that South Africa game in November."

Unbeaten 2016?

England face South Africa, Fiji, Argentina and Australia in successive weekends in the autumn, and can go through 2016 unbeaten if they avoid defeat.

"The key message from Eddie is how as a team do we get better, how do we improve?" Hartley added.

George Kruis, Mike Brown, Dylan Hartley, Maro Itoje
Dylan Hartley was appearing alongside his England team mates at the launch of the new England Rugby shirt

"Without winning that first game there is no point talking about going unbeaten, [so] every meeting we have had these last few days has been about South Africa and building for that game.

"I don't think anyone in our team has beaten South Africa before, so there's a huge opportunity there for us as a group."

New deal means 'tighter' group

Meanwhile, Hartley believes the new club and country agreement will be of great benefit to the national side.

Under terms of the new deal between the RFU and the Premiership clubs, which was finalised last month, England coach Eddie Jones will have more regular access to his players.

A 45-man group assembled in Teddington last weekend, a matter of weeks after the successful tour of Australia in June.

"We have a couple more of these camps before [the matches in] November which keeps us all connected and in England mode," Hartley said.

"It's hard to go from club to England, so the more we can meet together as a group the better for us as a team.

"It keeps us tighter as a group, and the more we meet those bonds stay tight."

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