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Johnson: Gatland under pressure

Martin Johnson waded into the furore over Dylan Hartley and branded Warren Gatland's attempts to wind up the England hooker as the actions of a man under pressure.

Wales coach Gatland lit the blue touch-paper ahead of a potentially explosive RBS 6 Nations showdown in Cardiff next Friday by branding Hartley a choker and questioning his temperament on the biggest stage. Johnson is not easily goaded into a pre-match war of words but the England team manager, speaking at the championship launch in London, returned fire with force.

And Johnson said: "It's about pressure and how people react to it. Where Wales are, they are under pressure as a team with their performances and not winning a game for a while. Warren's had a blast. He has said a lot of things. It is not particularly subtle. It's pretty obvious what he is trying to do. Dylan will take it in his stride."

Gatland signed a new four-year contract with the Welsh Rugby Union in October but Wales head into the Six Nations without a victory in their last seven Tests.

Johnson added: "We rally around guys when they've been singled out. You are potentially giving ammunition to the opposition. It brings the team together.

"With the opening game in Cardiff, they will be desperate to win. So are we."

Gatland, typically, dismissed Johnson's suggestion that he was feeling the heat with a jibe, which referred to the Six Nations target set for England by new Rugby Football Union chief executive John Steele.

"Coaches are always under pressure in this game. At least my chief executive has not come out and said that I have to finish first or second," Gatland said.

"There is always a bit of spice between England and Wales and we will see how (Hartley) responds."

Gatland is clearly trying to provoke a reaction from Hartley, the combative Northampton captain who has been known to sail close to the disciplinary wind.

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