Wales must improve or risk "embarrassing" themselves against England, says Gatland

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Josh Adams scored Wales' first try.

Warren Gatland claimed “it could be embarrassing” if Wales replicate their performance against Italy when they face England in a fortnight’s time.

Wales backed up a Six Nations victory over France by defeating the Azzurri 26-15 in Rome thanks to second-half tries by wing Josh Adams and centre Owen Watkin.

Wales equalled the longest unbeaten run in their 138-year Test match history, making it 11 successive victories and matching the sequence set between 1907 and 1910.

But it was a stop-start performance by a Wales team showing 10 changes from the one that triumphed in Paris eight days ago.

“There are lots of things we need to improve for England,” Wales head coach Gatland told ITV.

Owen Watkin was bright and scored his maiden try for Wales.

Owen Watkin was bright and scored his maiden try for Wales.

“We all need to improve in lots of areas to beat England. They are a pretty good side at the moment. If we play like that against England it could be embarrassing.”

Speaking at his post-match press conference, Gatland added: “It wasn’t a great performance, but sometimes you have to win ugly.

“We didn’t play that well, but as I said to the boys in the changing room, we will take the win, move on and start thinking about England.”

Asked if he regretted making wholesale changes, Gatland said: “I don’t regret anything. I was looking at the bigger picture.

“For us as coaches, in our last year, we want to have as good a World Cup as we can. That was the plan all along. There is no regret.

“We are two (wins) from two, and we have a couple of weeks of training before England. It sets us up nicely for the England match.

“A lot of people will be writing us off, which is a good position to be in. Hopefully, we will go under the radar, have two good weeks of training and get ourselves mentally and physically right.

“We didn’t play as well as we would have liked. Probably part of that is that we didn’t have the continuity that we would have if we hadn’t made so many changes.

“We didn’t really get out of jail. I don’t think it ever looked like we were going to lose the game, but we weren’t as accurate as we could have been.

“You are not always brilliant, and we weren’t today. We will be a lot better against England.

“We didn’t speak about the record (11 wins) at all this week, but we will probably talk about it before England.

Liam Williams' run created the opening Welsh try for Josh Adams.

Liam Williams’ run created the opening Welsh try for Josh Adams.

“If this group of players achieve that, it will be something nobody can take away from them. There will definitely be no lack of motivation in trying to beat England and break that record.”

During the game, the radio link between referee Mathieu Raynal and the television match official appeared not to work in an embarrassing episode for Six Nations chiefs, and when Raynal had to rule on try-scoring moments, a set of headphones were brought on for him to communicate with the TMO.

Wales skipper Jonathan Davies said: “I think there was a breakdown in communication with a technical fault. There is always a lot to talk about with things like that. It didn’t affect the result of the game, thankfully.”

Fly-half Dan Biggar kicked 14 points and Gareth Anscombe converted Watkin’s touchdown, but Italy, despite slipping to a 19th successive Six Nations defeat and a 13th on the bounce against Wales, battled hard throughout.

They claimed a first-half try from flanker Abraham Steyn, with fly-half Tommaso Allan kicking a penalty and conversion, before wing Edoardo Padovani crossed late on.

Reflecting on the result, Italy boss Conor O’Shea said: “I am really disappointed.

“I see a group in our changing room that are so driven and have a desire to succeed. They know the scale of the challenge, but we will just dust ourselves down.”

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Owen Farrell draws inspiration from New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady

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Owen Farrell has joined Jonathan Sexton in drawing inspiration from New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady in his quest to become rugby’s outstanding fly-half.

Brady won the Super Bowl for a record sixth time when the Los Angeles Rams were defeated 13-3 through a defensive masterclass in Atlanta on Monday.

At the heart of the win was Brady, the 41-year-old veteran whose vision and level of expertise Farrell has been compared to having as England’s attacking coordinator on the pitch.

Ireland playmaker Sexton began following Brady’s career at the advice of Leinster boss Stuart Lancaster and Farrell, who leads England against France in Sunday’s Six Nations clash at Twickenham, has followed suit.

“You’re always interested in the best and he’s someone who has been at the top for a very long time,” Farrell said.

Owen Farrell says he takes inspiration from Tom Brady.

Owen Farrell says he takes inspiration from Tom Brady.

“In that regard I have always taken a massive interest in him and probably any little insight you can get from any sort of article, podcast or book, it is always engaging and good to hear.

“He’s very in control and very calm under pressure. He is very ready – not just ready for what he thinks will be in front of him, ready for anything at the same time.”

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Ireland boss Joe Schmidt plays down Johnny Sexton head injury

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Joe Schmidt hopes Johnny Sexton will shake off a head injury in time for Ireland’s Guinness Six Nations trip to Italy.

British and Irish Lions fly-half Sexton lasted just 24 minutes of Ireland’s fraught 22-13 victory over Scotland at Murrayfield on Saturday.

The 33-year-old failed a Head Injury Assessment (HIA) and Joey Carbery came on, stepping up to set Keith Earls free for the winning score as Ireland hit back from last weekend’s 32-20 defeat to England.

Head coach Schmidt later downplayed the extent of Sexton’s injury as he said: “Johnny failed an HIA, he just banged his head in the build-up to our second try, he just fell pretty heavily.

“He seems to be doing quite well now though, so we’re hopeful he’ll be okay for the next game (against Italy on February 24).

“He copped a stamp at one point; I don’t even think it was a Scottish foot, I think it was one of our guys who tripped over him.

“He got two knocks so they were cumulative, and he has a swollen ankle, but that’s just swelling and he should bounce back from that pretty quickly.”

Admitting Ireland expected Scotland to single out Sexton and attempt to shut him down physically, Schmidt insisted that worked to the visitors’ advantage.

Sexton’s cute inside ball sent Jacob Stockdale haring clear for Ireland’s second try, leaving Schmidt happy with another training-ground ruse come good.

Schmidt was phlegmatic on Scotland targeting Sexton, replying: “It was going to happen, and Johnny probably knew he was only going to play 20 minutes so tried to cram it all into one quarter!

“That pass release for Jacob’s try was perfect, the guy maybe could have got to Jacob if not for that intent in trying to get to Johnny. So sometimes that works to our advantage.

“We felt that if we got the ball into Peter O’Mahony’s hands they would think he was just going to carry round the corner.

“So for Johnny to come back and strike round that side of the ruck might be an option.

“Mostly we would strike on the other side of the ruck, so we thought it might be an opportunity. And there’s no better man to get it in his hands than Jacob.”
Conor Murray, Stockdale and Earls all crossed for Ireland, with Carbery shrugging off an intercept pass that led to Sam Johnson’s try to set up his Munster team-mate Earls for the winner.

Schmidt admitted Ireland fell flat in their build-up to their England defeat, but was pleased and relieved to report greater buoyancy and urgency in Edinburgh.
“There was definitely a rise in temperature, definitely a rise in energy, from last week,” said Schmidt.

“You’ve got to have a lot of energy when you make as many tackles as we did in the first half.

“Now we’ve got to make sure we kick on from here. We’re relying on other people now, but the one thing we don’t have to rely on other people for is how we approach things and how we perform.”

Gregor Townsend took responsibility for Scotland’s defeat, admitting his side’s attack slipped off in the second half.

“Just that final piece, the execution off set-piece, that fell off the jigsaw today, and that’s my fault,” said Townsend, who confirmed full-back Stuart Hogg suffered a shoulder injury.

“I’m the attack coach, and we weren’t able to get those two or three phases either to get in behind the defence or set up our set plays.”

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