Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones has played down England’s attempts to pile the pressure on fly-half Rhys Patchell, joking that he will have words with “Uncle Eddie” after Saturday’s Six Nations showdown at Twickenham.
England head coach Eddie Jones opened the verbal hostilities on Thursday by questioning whether “third-choice 10” Patchell, 24, had the “bottle” to deliver against the Red Rose and accusing Alun Wyn of having “intimidated” referee Pascal Gauzere.
“It’s easy to play when the ball is on the front foot and going from side to side,” Eddie Jones said.
“But when it gets a bit cut and thirst, nip and tuck, this will be a proper Test. Then we will see if Patchell has the bottle to handle it.”
Alun Wyn, speaking on Friday, said: “People forget that Rhys Patchell has been in the squad for a good few years now.
“You can choose your friends but you can’t choose your family. I will have a chat with Uncle Eddie after the game.”
Eddie Jones also compared the rawness of Wales’ nine-10-12 axis to his own.
“George Ford has played 41 tests and he’s got Owen Farrell next to him who’s played 54 tests and he’s got Danny Care inside him, playing his 78th international,” Jones said.
“There’s a lot of experience on either side, but who has Patchell going to look for? He hasn’t got a lot of experience inside or outside him.
“That’s a big task for him. I’d imagine that when (Wales captain) Alun Wyn Jones and the guys go down for breakfast on Saturday morning, they’ll be looking at him thinking: ‘can this kid handle the pressure today?’ It’s a big ask.”
It’s an unprecedented attack from a serving England coach on an opposing player and on Friday afternoon England assistant coach Neal Hatley was forced to defend his boss.
Hatley said Eddie Jones’ decision to verbally target the two Wales players will not backfire on the Six Nations champions.
The tactic of placing Patchell and Alun Wyn in the crosshairs has been viewed by some commentators as high-risk, serving only to enrage Wales – but Hatley insists singling out opposition ringleaders is standard practice.
Asked whether he thought the decision would backfire, scrum coach Hatley said: “I don’t think so. The focus falls on us now. We have to make sure we are ready for anything that comes our way.
“It’s commonplace to highlight individual players and Rhys Patchell and Alun Wyn Jones are key players for them. It’s been happening for ages in Test Rugby.
“For us it’s about highlighting their key players and we would be silly not to think they have those sort of personnel. That’s all Eddie is doing. It’s not necessarily winding up the opposition.
“I’m sure in their camp they have said they need to get to George Ford and Owen Farrell, that they need to stop Courtney Lawes or Maro Itoje. I’m sure the same conversations happen in camps across the country.”
Eddie Jones also revealed on Thursday that he had complained to World Rugby about the conduct of Alun Wyn towards Gauzere in Wales’ victory over Scotland last Saturday, claiming it was “right out of order”.
It is understood that the sport’s global governing have responded by exonerating the Welsh captain of any wrongdoing.
Hatley continued: “We were well within our rights to ask the question of World Rugby.
“They have come back with clarification that the referee was in constant communication with the TMO and so it’s not an issue.
“We have complete faith in Jerome Garces to ref the game against Wales and we have never had an issue with him.”
The extraordinary verbal barrage between camps has added even more spice to an eagerly awaited clash at Twickenham on Saturday evening that may yet decide the fate of this year’s Six Nations.
England (15-1): M Brown; A Watson, J Joseph, O Farrell, J May; G Ford, D Care; S Simmonds, C Robshaw, C Lawes; M Itoje, J Launchbury; D Cole, D Hartley (capt), M Vunipola. Reps: J George, A Hepburn, H Williams, G Kruis, S Underhill, R Wigglesworth, B Te’o, J Nowell
Wales (15-1): L Halfpenny; J Adams, S Williams, H Parkes, S Evans; R Patchell, G Davies; R Moriarty, J Navidi, A Shingler; AW Jones (capt), C Hill; S Lee, K Owens, R Evans. Reps: E Dee, W Jones, T Francis, B Davies, J Tipuric, A Davies, G Anscombe, G North
Referee: Jerome Garces (FRA);
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Okay Eddie – enough.
Yes you have done a truly remarkable job in guiding England to 23 wins out of 24 starts since you took over, winning back-to-back Six Nations titles and taking England to No2 in the world rankings, but seriously, your behaviour is getting out of hand now.
I know everybody loves a good quote – and in a world of the dryest of dry sports personalities you are an oasis of colourful verbiage – everybody is glad for that. But you are taking things too far.
All good to talk up your team and promise them to be “brutal and absolutely ruthless” but when you start taking potshots at opposing players it really is beyond the pale.
It is the greatest irony that Jones is criticising Wales captain, Lions legend and all-round good guy Alun Wyn Jones for being “out of order” for trying to slow down Finn Russell’s conversion last week against Scotland.
It is the England coach’s comments that are out of order, both in his bizarre attack on Alun Wyn and also on his off-field targeting of new Wales fly-half Rhys Patchell.
Jones must be very very confident of an England victory, or else he wouldn’t be stoking the Welsh fire with the ammunition that he is giving Warren Gatland to fire up his troops at Twickenham on Saturday.
If Gatland needs a fire-and-brimstone team talk all he needs to do is stick Jones’ comments up on the wall. Nothing will galvanise the Red Dragons to heroic feats more than defending the honour of their captain and standing beside a new brother.
The only explanation for Jones’ rash remarks is that he has got carried away – as he did when he was sanctioned by World Rugby for being caught swearing on camera during the autumn internationals, unhappy with a referee’s decision.
But now Jones’ is leaping to the defence of the referee, Pascal Gauzere, and admonishing Alun Wyn for the temerity to question a decision, which is every captain’s right.
And as for his attack on Patchell, trying to sow seeds of doubt and fear in the mind of the Scarlets No10, it is very poor form indeed. It is reminiscent of Graham Henry’s uncalled for attacks on Quade Cooper in the 2011 Rugby World Cup – comments that almost came back to haunt Henry.
All Jones does is make everyone hate England more, get further behind Wales and desperately hope Patchell and Alun Wyn teach him a lesson.
It also makes his future appointment as Lions coach a little more difficult. Time to let your players do the talking on the field “Uncle Eddie” – and give it a break.
After a great first weekend of the Six Nations there’s no question where everyone’s attention will be on Saturday – Twickenham.
Wales have had a lot of praise this week, and deservedly so after a brilliant performance in Cardiff against Scotland, but this is where the real challenge for them begins.
It’s one thing being able to win a game in that manner, but what really counts is being able to do it week after week. Rugby is all about what you can do next and the Welsh setup will be fully aware of that and be focused on the task in hand.
Scotland were embarrassingly poor last week, but England are a serious side. They are one of the best few sides in the world and this will be a proper test for Wales – but one I think they can overcome.
England have a very good coach in Eddie Jones and it has been interesting to hear some of the things he has had to say about Rhys Patchell and Alun Wyn Jones in the last couple of days. The media always makes a big deal about mind games like this, but he’s just being a good coach.
If England win then people will look back at the comments and say what a good job he’s done, if they lose then they’ll all be forgotten about. It’s a no lose for him. The players won’t be taking any notice of it either – they will just have their heads down, looking forward to the game.
In Italy I thought England’s passing looked really slick and sharp and they are full of confidence. Sadly, the way Italy are playing it’s a little difficult to judge exactly how good the performance was, but England are looking a very strong unit. Wales know they will have their backs to the wall for potentially large parts of the game and the result will depend on how they cope with that.
There are some great battles all over the field. I think Wales have probably got the better back row which could be crucial. Out wide will be interesting too with Anthony Watson and Jonny May looking good, up against Steff Evans and Josh Adams. Watson and May might have more experience, but ultimately you have to get the ball to them, and for both sets of wingers it will come down to how the lads inside them play and if they can get the service they need.
I’ve got some great memories at Twickenham, every time I started there we won, and there are a few Welsh lads who have experience of winning there and that will be really important.
Wales were superb last week and I have spoken to a few of the boys and their confidence is high on the back of that and I think they might just spring an upset.
It’s a massive game at Murrayfield with Scotland and France both coming off tough losses.
Scotland let themselves down badly against Wales. There was no physicality, huge gaps in the defence and they just couldn’t string phases together – it was like schoolboy rugby at times.
I have said previously about Scotland having to deliver and once again they have failed to do so. They got a lot of credit for running New Zealand close but you have to be winning games consistently to be taken seriously.
For France, losing so late is always tough and now you have to hope they don’t crumble. I had some harsh words to say about them last week, and it is really sad to see how they are at the moment. I grew up watching great French sides – I even had a France shirt as a kid – and to see them not in the top two fighting for championships is a shame.
But international rugby is all about playing for 80 minutes. It’s no good performing for 30 or 60 minutes, the level has to be high for the whole game, and that’s where they are falling down at the moment.
It’s going to be a very interesting game, and one in which both sides have to show some real fight and get some pride back, but I think France will bounce back and get the win.
Finally, it looks like it could be a cricket score for Ireland as they face Italy.
They did very well last week to snatch a win in Paris. I actually texted Johnny Sexton to ask if he had shinned that drop goal – he looked so surprised it had gone over.
Once again they seem to be going about their business quietly and getting the job done. They got the ball rolling in France and you would expect them to follow that up with a very comfortable win against Italy. That will tune them up nicely for the tougher games to comes when Wales go to Dublin, and they have to travel to Twickenham.
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