England vs. Wales: Eddie Jones' barbs add spice to match that needs no hype

Martyn ThomasRugby Editor5 Minute Read

Cipriani: Marcus Smith can go as far as he wants to

Danny Cipriani predicts a bright future for Harlequins' Marcus Smith and reveals his own discussions with England coach Eddie Jones.

On Saturday evening we will discover exactly what impact, if any, the barbs launched by England coach Eddie Jones towards the Wales camp this week have had on Warren Gatland's squad.

The outcome of the Six Nations clash at Twickenham will be decided not by the pre-match comments of either coach, but by the actions over 80 minutes of the 46 players on the field, and quite possibly the man with the whistle in the middle of it all. That said, Jones' shots at Alun Wyn Jones and Rhys Patchell have provided spice to proceedings.

England vs. Wales in the championship is not a game that needs to be hyped up. Twickenham will be full to bursting with 82,000 fans come 4.45 p.m. (GMT) on Saturday, while the pubs and restaurants of south-west London will fill up long before then.

Talk between the two sets of supporters will undoubtedly drift towards what was said in Surrey on Thursday, but to the players it will matter little.

These are two sides that know each other well. Gatland first brought a Wales team to Twickenham 10 years ago, and in the decade since the two sides have met on 14 occasions. He has coached 11 of England's 23-man matchday squad on at least one British & Irish Lions tour, and the relative bonhomie of the two camps led to them meeting in Bristol for a set-piece training session last November.

Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones, for one, insists he has not been affected by his namesake's comments. "That's the salt of a rugby player," he said on Friday. "Irrelevant of how much experience you have or haven't got, those questions are going to be asked. Whether it's from your own camp or another you've got to answer those. That's the pressure that is professional sport."

He added: "It's funny the focus has been on a lot of words rather than important 80 minutes tomorrow. That's the focus for us."

The visiting skipper says he will "have a chat with uncle Eddie after the game". But the fact that the England coach has decided to single out two of Wales' most important players -- their captain and playmaker -- suggests that he saw enough in their victory over Scotland last weekend to worry him.

England have rarely been troubled at Twickenham under Jones. Australia arrived with hopes of toppling them in November, but left with their tails placed firmly between their legs.

Wales were well beaten here two years ago, as an early Rob Evans try was answered with five tries -- the 27-13 scoreline kept in check largely because George Ford converted just one of those scores. But against Scotland there was a verve and confidence in Wales' play that has been lacking since the last World Cup, and was personified by Samson Lee's flicked pass to Ross Moriarty.

Alun Wyn Jones speaks to the media following Eddie Jones' comments about the Wales captain.BEN STANSALL/AFP/Getty Images

It was the sort of moment that has become the norm for the Scarlets this season. With 10 players from the region in the Wales starting XV -- Leigh Halfpenny's health permitting -- and Patchell pulling the strings in the absence of Dan Biggar and Rhys Priestland, it is little surprise that it has transferred into the Six Nations.

But was it wise for Eddie Jones to stoke the hornet's nest? "I don't think its necessarily winding up the opposition -- it's highlighting key players," England scrum coach Neal Hatley said Friday. "I'm sure in their camp they have said they need to get to 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."

Hatley is almost certainly right in that assessment, but it was the public nature of the comments that have shaped the build-up to this match, and caught so many people by surprise.

Not least because the England coach seemed so happy with his lot and his team following their opening-round win against Italy in Rome. That victory, he said at the time, was built on the best scrummaging performance of his tenure, while Sam Simmonds' championship debut was the stuff of dreams.

England have discovered the extent of Ben Youngs' knee injury since then, but Wales will not be foolish enough to think that their hosts are rattled. "You see the performances they've rolled out," Alun Wyn Jones said, "their ability to have changes in crucial areas, the strength in depth when people come in they're able to fill the void and continue in a similar vein.

"They've got a strong 15, a strong 23-24, but we'll have to face them off."