Wales refrain from verbal battle with England ahead of Six Nations clash

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Wales have steered clear of any verbal sparring match with England boss Eddie Jones prior to Saturday’s Six Nations showdown.

Jones has ignited the build-up to an inevitably high-octane Twickenham occasion, highlighting what he sees as Wales fly-half Rhys Patchell’s Test match inexperience and labelling him as Wales’ “third-choice 10”.

He claimed Scarlets star Patchell will be “under some heat” this weekend when Wales target a first Twickenham Six Nations win against England since 2012.

Reflecting on Wales’ 34-7 thumping of Scotland last weekend, Jones said: “Wales played really well against Scotland, but it’s going to be different on Saturday – they had no expectation on them last Saturday, but this week they come full of expectation.

“Everyone has been telling them how well they played. (Wales coach) Warren Gatland’s been talking a lot this week. He’s confident. They’re confident.”

Wales, though, left for their Surrey base on Thursday having not engaged in verbal jousting.

“I don’t know what Eddie has said, but any player wearing the number 10 jersey is going to be put under pressure,” Wales assistant coach Robin McBryde said. “There’s nothing different there.

“He (Patchell) is surrounded by a number of players from his (Scarlets) region and that cohesion it brings, that familiarity, will hopefully stand up under the pressure of international rugby. As we saw last Saturday, it was good to watch.

“I am not going to try (to respond) with Eddie. I know better. He’s got a few things to get off his chest, and hopefully he’ll feel better for it.”

Asked if there was a message for Jones, McBryde added: “I’m going to stay out of it. I can’t win that one.”

Wales have beaten England three times at Twickenham since Warren Gatland became head coach 10 years ago, and they were the last team to topple them there in a Six Nations fixture six years ago.

“For the players involved, they can draw on those experiences and look back on why they won,” McBryde said.

“From a team point of view, I don’t think it stands for a lot. England are a bit different, Wales are a bit different, and rugby is now different, certainly with some new laws and a new emphasis on certain aspects of play.

“The game changes pretty quickly and we know momentum is pretty important. We will be aiming to start well and take it from there. 

“Eddie has said he is going to put us under pressure, but the same goes for us.

“Shaun Edwards (McBryde’s fellow Wales assistant) will be banging the drum in terms of putting them under pressure. When the stakes are high, there is no quarter asked and none given. That’s what it will be on Saturday.”

The set-piece will be a critical area in terms of the overall contest, with scrummaging supremacy vital to both teams’ aspirations of victory.

“At the end of the day, we are there to do a job,” McBryde added. “We know they are going to come after us at the set-piece, and I think we’ll stand up to it and hopefully repay the compliment.

“I think we have been very legal with the way we have gone about the scrum in recent years. I know that there is a reputation we have built for ourselves, and a maturity about our front-row players, too.”

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Ireland coach Joe Schmidt gives Jack Conan and Dan Leavy first Six Nations starts

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Jack Conan and Dan Leavy will make their first Six Nations starts after Joe Schmidt named the backrow duo in the starting XV to face Italy on Saturday at the Aviva Stadium.

Conan, 25, and Leavy, 23, come in for CJ Stander – who was outstanding in the nerve-wracking 15-13 victory over France last weekend – and Josh van der Flier respectively, among four changes, all in the scrum.

“CJ Stander covered a lot of ground last weekend and it’s really down to mileage in giving him a bit of a rest on the replacements bench,” said Schmidt.

“It is also to reward Jack Conan as well as try and keep freshness – these Six Nations games become attritional. This is an opportunity to freshen up the team.

“Jack brings great speed and his ability to carry the ball, plus he is very physical in defence.

“He is great at transferring the ball through contact and his lineout is improving too; there are a whole gambit of things he can bring to the party.”

Stander is on the replacements bench whilst Van der Flier will play no further role in the tournament after a first-half injury in Paris ruled him out for the rest of the season.

Flanker Leavy came on for his Leinster team-mate and put in an impressive performance.

“He grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck,” was Schmidt’s assessment.

Number 8 Conan, who like Leavy and Van der Flier plays for Leinster, will win his sixth cap. With four tries already to his name, the Italian defence will be on high alert to the dangers he can cause.

The other two changes see veteran lock Devin Toner restored to the second row alongside Iain Henderson.

James Ryan, 21, caught the eye on his Six Nations debut against the French but is rested entirely, potentially with one eye on a tougher day at the office at home to Wales in a fortnight’s time.

Jack McGrath comes in for Leinster team-mate Cian Healy at prop. 

Exciting young talent Jordan Larmour – who is predominantly a full-back but can also play on the wing – is likely to win his first cap as the 20-year-old is named on the replacements bench.

Schmidt has opted to retain his world class half-back pairing of scrum-half Conor Murray and fly-half Johnny Sexton, whose drop goal at the end of 41 phases clinched the win in dramatic style over the French.

Hooker Rory Best captains the side in what will be his 108th Test appearance for Ireland, drawing him third equal with Paul O’Connell on the all-time Irish list.

The Irish – seen by many as the biggest threat to end England’s two year dominance of the Six Nations – will start as hot favourites against an Italy side that put up a good contest against the English last weekend before running out of steam and losing 46-15.

Ireland team (15-1):

Rob Kearney; Keith Earls, Robbie Henshaw, Bundee Aki, Jacob Stockdale; Johnny Sexton, Conor Murray; Jack Conan, Dan Leavy, Peter O’Mahony; Devin Toner, Iain Henderson; Tadhg Furlong, Rory Best (capt), Jack McGrath

Replacements

Sean Cronin, Cian Healy, Andrew Porter, Quinn Roux, CJ Stander, Kieran Marmion, Joey Carbery, Jordan Larmour

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Eddie Jones tells England to target Rhys Patchell ahead of Wales clash

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Eddie Jones has ignited the build-up to England’s Six Nations clash with Wales by thrusting Rhys Patchell under the spotlight.

Jones has piled the pressure on the inexperienced 24-year-old Welsh fly-half, who will be winning just his seventh cap in the absence of injured playmakers Dan Biggar and Rhys Priestland.

Scarlets 10 Patchell was hugely influential in last weekend’s 34-7 rout of Scotland in Cardiff, but injury-hit Wales were widely written off leading into that match and Jones insists England at Twickenham are a different proposition.

“Every time Rhys Patchell looks up, he’s going to see Jonathan Joseph in his vision – it’s not a great sight,” Jones said.

“Wales have to get the ball wide and Patchell hasn’t played much Test match rugby. He’s a young guy, he’s inexperienced and is their third-choice 10.

“He’s got to get the ball wide and that’s going to be a big job. It will be different to playing against Scotland. Scotland couldn’t cope with the expectation and now he’s got to cope with the expectation of playing well.

Wales' fly-half Rhys Patchell throws a ball during training.

Wales fly-half Rhys Patchell during Wales training.

“Patchell will have to find guys around him to help because he’ll be under some heat.

“Wales played really well against Scotland but it’s going to be different on Saturday – they had no expectation on them last Saturday but this week they come full of expectation.

“Everyone has been telling them how well they played. (Wales coach) Warren Gatland’s been talking a lot this week. He’s confident. They’re confident.”

It is the first time Jones has sought to engage Wales in verbal hostilities ahead of the eagerly awaited showdown between rivals who completed convincing victories in round one.

Gatland stated earlier in the week that England’s six-day turnaround following their 46-15 demolition of Italy would count against them, but Jones used Thursday’s team announcement to hit back.

“I can remember 18 or 24 months ago someone at the Rugby Football Union, whose name I don’t recollect at the moment, coming in and saying, ‘You play Italy on Sunday and Wales on Saturday, is that OK?’,” Jones said.

“No problem, that’s the draw, that’s how we prepare for it. So we’ve had 18 months to prepare for this turnaround.

“Is that difficult? It’s difficult, it’s difficult if you haven’t used your 18 months well. We’ve used our 18 months well. We’ve had a great preparation.”

George Ford on the way to scoring his side's fifth try against Italy.

George Ford on the way to scoring his side’s fifth try against Italy.

England have made two changes to their starting XV against Wales, with Joseph replacing Ben Te’o at outside centre and Danny Care coming in for the injured Ben Youngs at scrum-half.

Te’o impressed with his powerful carrying against Italy but faded in his first appearance since recovering from ankle surgery last October, and Jones has opted for the slick footwork, defensive expertise and experience of Joseph in his place.

“It’s just my gut feeling with Joseph,” Jones said. “I feel he will start the game well against Wales. Jonathan’s got great experience, he’s fast, a great defensive player.

“We were very happy with Te’o last week, but it’s also his second game back and, in my experience with players in their second game back from a long injury, it’s always the most difficult game.”

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