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Lydiate targeting weak spots

Wales flanker Dan Lydiate has responded to questions about Dylan Hartley's temperament by admitting that Warren Gatland's men will be seeking "chinks in the armour" against England in Cardiff.

England forwards coach Graham Rowntree said Hartley must steel himself for intense "goading" from Wales in the Six Nations opener on February 6 after pushing his career suspensions to 50 weeks.

The Northampton hooker - who was famously labelled a 'choker' by Wales coach Gatland in 2011 - was hit with a three-week ban after his red card for elbowing Leicester's Matt Smith in December. That was added to a charge sheet which includes eye-gouging, biting, punching and swearing when he was sent to the sin bin against Racing Metro last weekend.

Lydiate admitted the Wales squad had not talked specifics about their game-plan for England after only arriving in camp on Monday morning, but the Ospreys back-rower conceded that "chatting" with opponents was part and parcel of the game.

"Sometimes there is (talk) in breaks in play but, if it's a fast-flowing game, you are usually trying to suck in as much air as possible," Lydiate said.

"Some players are more vocal than others. In your own team you have leaders who do the main chatting in a game.

"When there's breaks in play they are usually the ones piping up.

"But you have to pay attention to any really strong players, you keep your eyes on players like that.

"You look at their strengths and weaknesses and they probably do the same with us.

"You look for chinks in the armour. It's no different to any other game or any other team you play."

England's already extensive injury list grew over the weekend as fly-half Owen Farrell (knee), centre Kyle Eastmond (shoulder), second row Geoff Parling (knee) and back-rower Tom Wood (ankle) were hurt in European Champions Cup games.

Full-back Ben Foden. number eight Ben Morgan and locks Joe Launchbury and Ed Slater have already been ruled out for the entire tournament, while second row Courtney Lawes and centre Manu Tuilagi will definitely miss the Millennium Stadium opener.

Wales, meanwhile, have had pretty much an injury-free build-up to the game but Lydiate insisted nothing could be read into the contrasting pre-match fortunes of the two sides.

"They have got a lot of strength and depth so whatever England side turns up will give a good account of themselves," Lydiate said.

"They have got quality throughout and it's the same for all sides, we have gone through stages where we have picked up a lot of injuries and that's part of the modern game now.

"It's a massive game and hopefully we will get our preparations right and build up in a good way.

"The first matches are always important but there is no bigger match than England in the Six Nations opener."

Many observers see the clash as a dress rehearsal for the World Cup meeting between the two sides in September, but the 27-year-old blindside flanker said the game would have no bearing on that Twickenham contest.

"It (the Six Nations) is a completely different animal and a lot can happen between now and the World Cup," Lydiate said.

"Squads can change through injuries and selections. All we can focus on at the minute is this championship and the first game, which is against England.

"I dare say it will be the toughest Six Nations that we have been involved in judging by the results from the autumn with all the home nations picking up really good wins against the southern hemisphere teams.

"All the teams will be going in with confidence and it should be a good tournament."


From Belfast Telegraph