Eddie Jones has warned England to beware of Alun Wyn Jones’s wind-up tactics as they seek to keep alive their hopes of defending the Six Nations title against Wales on Saturday.
The Wales captain played a key role in rattling England – in particular Kyle Sinckler – in Cardiff two years ago, when Wales came from behind to take victory, and the head coach is expecting more of the same at the Principality Stadium.
Before the match in 2019, the Wales head coach Warren Gatland took aim at Sinckler, describing him as an “emotional timebomb” and afterwards appeared to gloat at his captain’s success in winding up the England prop. A year before that, Eddie Jones called out the Wales captain’s conduct in dealing with the referee Pascal Gaüzère when trying to stop a kick being taken against Scotland and revealed he had complained to World Rugby about it.
This time the head coach was more complimentary over his namesake – who will make a 23rd straight appearance against England – but again warned of his influence over referees with Gaüzère also taking charge on Saturday. By contrast, England’s Owen Farrell has a reputation for overstepping the mark with referees but while Eddie Jones is confident his captain will develop into a world class leader, he urged his side to show they have developed more “street-smarts” at the weekend.
“It’s [Alun Wyn Jones’] 146th Test [for Wales] so he knows what he’s doing,” said Jones. “He’s an experienced campaigner who has a good relationship with the referees. At times he has targeted players in our team. We’ve spoken about him and we understand what he’ll be trying to do. It’s just about making sure we maintain our composure and our control.
“We are evolving into a more street-smart team, but the game is about pressure situations. 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.”
Elliot Daly (Saracens), Anthony Watson (Bath), Henry Slade (Exeter), Owen Farrell (Saracens), Jonny May (Gloucester), George Ford (Leicester), Ben Youngs (Leicester), Mako Vunipola (Saracens), Jamie George (Saracens), Kyle Sinckler (Bristol), Maro Itoje (Saracens), Jonny Hill (Exeter), Mark Wilson (Newcastle), Tom Curry (Sale Sharks), Billy Vunipola (Saracens)
Replacements: Luke Cowan-Dickie (Exeter), Ellis Genge (Leicester), Will Stuart (Bath), Charlie Ewels (Bath), George Martin (Leicester), Ben Earl (Bristol), Dan Robson (Wasps), Max Malins (Bristol).
Accordingly, Eddie Jones has kept team changes to a minimum, with Jamie George returning at hooker and Mark Wilson coming in at blindside flanker after Courtney Lawes was a late withdrawal with a chest injury. That has meant a place on the bench and a potential debut for the 19-year-old George Martin but on the whole it is another conservative selection for what Eddie Jones has billed as a ”make or break” contest. In other words, the England coach is hoping to play his underperforming senior stars such as Farrell into form, dismissing any concerns over his captain’s leadership skills.
“Our feedback from the referees on Owen is only positive,” added Eddie Jones. “Unless they are telling lies, they are quite happy with his approach. Owen is in his third year and is learning his craft and he will become an excellent captain. He is just a bit off his best at the moment, like a number of our players. There are a number of external variables but he is not far away. You will see a better version of him against Wales.”