Eddie Jones has accused Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones of targeting England players – and primed his team to be ready for it.
The world’s most-capped player takes on England for the 23rd time tomorrow with the memory still fresh of him winding up Kyle Sinckler.
That was England’s last Six Nations trip to Cardiff when the prop was goaded by Jones into a response which Sinckler later conceded “definitely cost the team a Grand Slam”.
Two years on and England say they are alive to the prospect of further dirty tricks – ignoring the fact it was they who were guilty last season when Joe Marler grabbed Jones’ genitals.
Team boss Jones describes his namesake as an “experienced campaigner who has a good relationship with the referees”.
But he warned: “At times he has targeted players in our team. This is his 146th Test. He knows what he’s doing.
“We’ve spoken about him and we understand what he’ll be trying to do. It’s about making sure we maintain our composure and our control.”
Jones has been around long enough to know history has a habit of repeating itself, particularly against opponents as wily as Wales, who will field their most experienced side EVER, boasting 902 caps.
He claimed in one breath that his players are “evolving into a more street-smart team”.
In the next he acknowledged that with Wales skipper Jones in opposition the jury would be out on that until after tomorrow's ding-dong.
“The game is about pressure situations,” said the Australian. “Whilst we all like to think we can handle every pressure situation, we don’t and that is the great thing about the game of rugby.
“I am sure Alun Wyn Jones is going to be looking for those situations and we’re going to have to deal with them.”
England are a team with so much to prove in this tournament after being wretched against Scotland and only slightly better against Italy.
When one of England’s sporting greats says they “don’t look a happy camp”, as Sir Ian Botham has this week, you know the pressure is coming on.
Asked if he had expected to be sledged by Beefy, cricket fanatic Jones said: “Not really! But he’s entitled to his opinion.
“That’s the great thing about rugby; we’ve got so many opinions. We’ve now got cricketers wanting to talk about rugby.”
The talk yesterday was of a team selection missing Courtney Lawes, 24 hours after he had been put up for interview and insisted he was going to go after Wales playmaker Dan Biggar.
The official line was that the Northampton forward “slipped over and felt something in his pec (chest muscle)” during training.
Mark Wilson, dropped from the squad to face Italy, comes straight back into the back row. In the other change Jamie George replaces Luke Cowan-Dickie at hooker.
Elliot Daly wins his 50th cap but that is trumped by George North completing his century despite, incredibly, being only 28.
North will become the youngest ever player to reach 100 caps, beating Australia flanker Michael Hooper's record by 28 days.
WALES – Liam Williams; Louis Rees-Zammit, George North, Jonathan Davies, Josh Adams; Dan Biggar, Kieran Hardy; Wyn Jones, Ken Owens, Tomas Francis, Adam Beard, Alun Wyn Jones (capt), Josh Navidi, Justin Tipuric, Taulupe Faletau.
Replacements: Elliot Dee, Rhodri Jones, Leon Brown, Cory Hill, James Botham, Gareth Davies, Callum Sheedy, Willis Halaholo.
ENGLAND – Elliot Daly; Anthony Watson, Henry Slade, Owen Farrell (capt), Jonny May; George Ford, Ben Youngs; Mako Vunipola, Jamie George, Kyle Sinckler, Maro Itoje, Jonny Hill, Mark Wilson, Tom Curry, Billy Vunipola.
Replacements: Luke Cowan-Dickie, Ellis Genge, Will Stuart, Charlie Ewels, George Martin, Ben Earl, Dan Robson, Max Malins.
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