England expect Wales to target their players individually during Saturday’s Autumn Nations Cup showdown in an effort to draw a response out of them, with defence coach John Mitchell claiming that such tactics would come as “no surprise”.
With one foot in next week’s final, England just need to claim a losing bonus point to guarantee their spot against likely opponents France next weekend, having recorded back-to-back victories over Georgia and Ireland fresh off the back of their Six Nations success.
In stark contrast to that form, Wales finally snapped their six-game losing streak by defeating the Georgians last Saturday in a hard-fought 18-0 victory played in atrocious conditions in Llanelli, with the Parc y Scarlets set to host this Saturday’s encounter as Cardiff’s Principality Stadium remains unavailable due to Covid-19 reasons.
But regardless of form, England expect a challenge this weekend from their neighbours in a rivalry that rarely fails to disappoint, and Mitchell believes that recent history will dictate how Wayne Pivac’s squad approach the match.
England’s 33-30 victory over Wales in March saw an incident between prop Joe Marler and Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones that resulted in the England forward receiving a 10-week ban for grabbing the lock’s genitals - a suspension that was served without Marler missing a game as it occurred during lockdown.
Evidently, England believe that Wales deliberately went after Marler to provoke a reaction, though the Harlequins forward had previous against them after receiving a two-match ban and £20,000 ban for calling opposite prop Samson Lee a “gypsy boy” during their 2016 Six Nations encounter, in reference to his traveller background.
Marler has missed England’s last three matches though after undergoing a procedure to drain his knee at the end of the Premiership campaign last month, but he returns to the squad for this weekend’s encounter to challenge Mako Vunipola and Ellis Genge for a place in the matchday squad. Whether Marler makes the cut or not though, Mitchell expects to see similar tactics deployed to try and knock an in-form England off their game.
“It is really no surprise to anyone,” said Mitchell. “They have always had a crack at Ben Youngs, at Owen (Farrell). I think they went hard at Sinckler a couple of times we’ve been down there.
“They clearly target people. They look to create individual distractions and then try to take away some of the key components to our ways of creating pressure. We’re ready for anything, to be fair, so we expect that again. That’s just the way they play, so we’ve just got to be ready for it don’t we?
“I wouldn’t say they’re dirty tricks. It’s just clever, smart ways of trying to take something away from a side. Ultimately a better way to sum it up is that they try to make you uncomfortable, which is what we try to do to them as well. We’re looking forward to whatever they throw at us.”
England boss Jones will address that this week, along with help from the team’s psychologist Andrea Furst, who leads a group session each week to analyse the previous game and address anything that may need discussing ahead of the weekend.
But full-back Elliot Daly added that it is something the players look to combat for any opponent and not just Wales, given how different teams find different ways to take away their strengths, as South Africa did in last year’s Rugby World Cup final by seizing control without getting under the skin.
“It is something we always look at, we always talk about it,” Daly added. “When you play teams, obviously they want to try and put you off your game. It is the responsibility of the team to make sure if they (the opposition) are going after one person or a couple of people, just to make sure we pull our mates out of there or we get them back to where they need to be.
“We did a lot of work on it towards the World Cup and we have carried that on. We know how to react in these situations.”
Elliot Daly (Saracens, 45 caps)
Owen Farrell (Saracens, 86 caps)
George Ford (Leicester Tigers, 70 caps)
Jonathan Joseph (Bath Rugby, 53 caps)
Max Malins (Bristol Bears, 2 caps)
Jonny May (Gloucester Rugby, 59 caps)
Dan Robson (Wasps, 5 caps)
Henry Slade (Exeter Chiefs, 32 caps)
Anthony Watson (Bath Rugby, 44 caps)
Ben Youngs (Leicester Tigers, 102 caps)
Luke Cowan-Dickie (Exeter Chiefs, 24 caps)
Tom Curry (Sale Sharks, 26 caps)
Ben Earl (Bristol Bears, 6 caps)
Ellis Genge (Leicester Tigers, 21 caps)
Jamie George (Saracens, 52 caps)
Jonny Hill (Exeter Chiefs, 2 caps)
Maro Itoje (Saracens, 41 caps)
Joe Launchbury (Wasps, 67 caps)
Joe Marler (Harlequins, 71 caps)
Kyle Sinckler (Bristol Bears, 38 caps)
Will Stuart (Bath Rugby, 6 caps)
Sam Underhill (Bath Rugby, 20 caps)
Billy Vunipola (Saracens, 54 caps)
Mako Vunipola (Saracens, 62 caps)
Jack Willis (Wasps, 1 cap)