England assistant coach Neal Hatley says Eddie Jones’ decision to verbally target two Wales players will not backfire on the NatWest 6 Nations champions.
Jones ignited hostilities between the rivals by questioning whether fly-half Rhys Patchell has the “bottle” for Saturday’s Twickenham showdown and accusing captain Alun Wyn Jones of having “intimidated” referee Pascal Gauzere.
The tactic of placing Patchell and Jones in the crosshairs has been viewed by some commentators as high-risk, serving only to enrage Wales – but Hatley insists singling out opposition ringleaders is standard practice.
Asked whether he thought the decision would backfire, scrum coach Hatley said: “I don’t think so. The focus falls on us now. We have to make sure we are ready for anything that comes our way.
“It’s commonplace to highlight individual players and Rhys Patchell and Alun Wyn Jones are key players for them. It’s been happening for ages in Test rugby.
“For us it’s about highlighting their key players and we would be silly not to think they have those sort of personnel. That’s all Eddie is doing. It’s not necessarily winding up the opposition.
“I’m sure in their camp they have said they need to get to George Ford and Owen Farrell, that they need to stop Courtney Lawes or Maro Itoje. I’m sure the same conversations happen in camps across the country.”
Jones revealed on Thursday that he had complained to World Rugby about the conduct of Alun Wyn Jones towards Gauzere in Wales’ victory over Scotland last Saturday, claiming it was “right out of order”.
It is understood that the sport’s global governing have responded by exonerating the Welsh captain of any wrongdoing.
Hatley continued: “We were well within our rights to ask the question of World Rugby.
“They have come back with clarification that the referee was in constant communication with the TMO and so it’s not an issue.
“We have complete faith in Jerome Garces to ref the game against Wales and we have never had an issue with him.”