Six Nations 2014: Wales up for England clash, says Warren Gatland
Six Nations 2014: Warren Gatland insists he won't need to motivate his Wales side for their trip to Twickenham
Warren Gatland insists motivation will not be a problem for his players in next month’s clash with England at Twickenham.
Under assistant coach Rob Howley in the final match of last year’s Six Nations, Wales famously dismantled England as they ran out 30-3 winners to retain their title against a side which, for many, were a shoo-in for the Grand Slam.
We have high expectations so there was a lot of pressure on the players and the coaches. It was an excellent display
“There is never any lack of motivation when you play against England. We will try to bring them down a few levels,” Gatland said on Friday night before the Red Rose defeated Ireland 13-10 and the expectation increased in the English written media.
“At this level there is so much emotion involved and two weeks ago we were a bit off it. Sometimes a team has something to prove. They had that two weeks ago and we had it tonight. You could feel it in the changing room beforehand.
“In international rugby you have to be on edge mentally and emotionally and I thought we were.”
Wales’s 27-6 win over France was easily their best win in this year’s championship after a lacklustre victory over Italy in their opening match and that dismal display in Dublin as they went down 26-3.
A reaction was called for, not just by a proud nation wounded, but by Gatland and the rugby legends the current generation aspire to emulate.
In the build-up, senior players were rolled out to talk of disappointment and guilt as well as the knowledge and desire of how to put it right. And against an unbeaten France, they more than turned up at the Millennium Stadium and duly delivered with aplomb.
Gatland added: “The players responded well, we have trained well in the last two weeks because we know we let ourselves down in Dublin. We have high expectations so there was a lot of pressure on the players and the coaches. It was an excellent display.”
Such was the anger at the manner of the defeat by Ireland, the big talk pre-match was the threat of international careers brought to an abrupt end – a stern warning to senior players that reputation does not a warrant a jersey.
“The message is that when you put that jersey on sometimes you need to be reminded of your responsibility,” Gatland continued. “We are such a small playing nation that the jersey can never be taken for granted. The performance against Ireland just wasn’t good enough from the players and the coaches had a long, hard look at themselves as well.
“It was not a threat, just a reminder that when we put the jersey on we have a huge amount to play for whether it is family or friends, the past of whatever. I thought the atmosphere tonight was sensational and the players responded brilliantly to the pressure that was put on them.
“We changed our game plan for tonight and it was obvious we played differently.
“Even though there was a lot of criticism and people calling for wholesale changes, I am a great believer in giving players the chance to redeem themselves. That’s definitely what happened.
“I have been involved in poor performances myself as a player and you always want the chance to put things right. We made a change at No9 for a number of reasons. Rhys Webb did exceptionally well but the players responded well to the last two weeks of training.”
We have got some confidence back, we can build some momentum and we have had some good results at Twickenham in the past
As the celebrations continued long into Saturday morning in Cardiff there was an uneasy feeling among fans – not from the excesses of beer and kebabs, but the prospect of doing something that goes against decades of sporting honour in Wales: supporting England in favour of Celtic cousins Ireland.
With Ireland the sole remaining unbeaten team in the tournament and no confidence in the French in the final round of the tournament, only England on Saturday afternoon could stop the Irish to keep Wales’s dreams of an historic third successive title alive.
They did and the championship was blown wide open again.
Gatland also believes that Wales’s title chances are alive after the win against France with the visit to Twickenham to come. Injuries and suspensions notwithstanding, the majority of the Wales 23 that won 19-12 at Twickenham in 2012 is still there.
Of England’s side two years ago, only Owen Farrell and second-half substitutes Mike Brown and Ben Youngs remain in the backs. It’s not much better among the forwards, although Dylan Harley and Chris Robshaw remain increasingly strong players.
“Well, we have a better chance than we had before [France],” Gatland said. “You would probably have expected [it] to be a lot closer so I think we are back in contention but we have a big game coming in a couple of weeks.
“It may all come down to the last game at home [against Scotland] with a bit of luck. We have got some confidence back, we can build some momentum and we have had some good results at Twickenham in the past.
“Someone made a good point that in the last three years the only team we have lost to is Ireland. Hopefully now we can go and win in London.”