After the tunnel stand-off which delayed kick-off two years ago, England have placed special emphasis on being ready for curveballs from the “cunning Welsh”, as Eddie Jones described them yesterday.
England refused to take the pitch in 2015 after learning that Wales planned to leave them out on their own in a sound and light show for five minutes and the squad have been briefed to expect similar destabilisation tactics this time.
“Wales to me are a bit like South Africa,” said Jones. “They’re countries where rugby’s the main sport and the support is absolutely at fever pitch. The team’s results affect the country rugby and means such a lot, so you go to those places and you feel that need to win, that urgency to want to dismantle the opposition.
“You go to the hotel and unless you do things at the hotel players get rung incessantly through their night. Those things happen.
“You get on the bus to go to the ground and the traffic controller drives slower than the traffic’s going to make sure you’re late.
Eddie Jones said Wales remind him of South Africa
“You get to the ground and there’s something wrong with your dressing room. There’s lights off or the heater’s switched off.
“Those things happen regularly in those sorts of countries so the challenge for a team to play away is to be better than that because they’re things you can’t control.
“You can’t check what’s planned because they traditionally tell you one thing and something else happens. It happens regularly, both in South Africa and Wales.
“Once we go down the M4 and cross the Severn River we don’t control anything. The only thing we control is our own mental state and the way we play the game. That’s how good sides are and that’s what we want to be.”
England will arrive on their team bus at the St David’s Hotel in Cardiff Bay today with a request to reception for no calls to be put through to players’ rooms.
Eddie Jones has told his England players to rise above any Welsh trickery
Jones, who even name-checked “goats” as a potential issue yesterday, clearly does not trust England’s hosts as far as he can throw them which, as a 57-year-old who had a stroke in 2013, is not very far.
The first-timers to this unique occasion in the England squad have been taken aside this week and instructed on some of the potential pitfalls of a trip to the Welsh capital.
“We talked about our experiences and I asked some of the senior guys to pick up the guys that haven’t played there and take them for a coffee just to give the young guys a bit of advice,” said captain Dylan Hartley.
Historically, this is England’s most challenging Six Nations fixture and their coach, who apologised to the squad yesterday for preparing them poorly for the France game last week, is leaving no stone unturned this time. He has identified the psychological state of the team as being as important – if not more so – than their physical condition for Wales away.
There are ten survivors in the match-day 23 from the England side which were thrashed 30-3 to give Wales the championship in 2013, and team psychologist Jeremy Snape, the former England cricketer, has been in camp poking around inside players’ heads to ensure there are no hang-ups.
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“He’s bowled a few off spinners. He has had a role to play, he’s been good,” said Jones. “There’s always shadows in the corners. Every team has them. They’re always there. All the experiences you’ve had in the past that are potentially there to trip you up. We’ve spoken about those shadows this week.
“Teams go through maturity cycles and to have one of those experiences is a life-changing experience. You never want to go back there. You don’t like that feeling. Those players have learned a lot from that. The team has moved on.”
For Ben Youngs, a starter in 2013, the scars have healed. England, unbeaten in their last 15 matches, have beaten Wales four times and lost just once since then.
“I look at that team in 2013, which I was part of, and think, ‘God, we had so many kids out there’,” he said. “I look at the side we’ve got now and in the front row Dyls has got 70 caps, Dan Cole is on 70, Joe Marler is two away from 50.
“Owen Farrell is close to 50 and Mike Brown at the back has more than 50 – the team now has a completely different dynamic.
“I’m sure there was probably, looking back, an element of naivety but I look now and this team is so much better equipped than we were four years ago.”
Wales: Halfpenny; North, J Davies, S Williams, L Williams; Biggar, Webb; Evans, Owens, Francis, Ball, Jones (capt), Warburton, Tipuric, Moriarty. Replacements: Baldwin, Smith, Lee, Hill, Faletau, G Davies, S Davies, Roberts.
England: Brown; Nowell; Joseph, Farrell, Daly; Ford, Youngs; Marler, Hartley (capt), Cole, Launchbury, Lawes, Itoje, Clifford, Hughes. Replacements: George, Mullan, Sinckler, Wood, Haskell, Care, Te’o, May.