Warren Gatland prepares to go toe-to-toe with England's Eddie Jones
Gatland will send an unchanged team to Twickenham for Saturday’s clash following a 34-7 thumping of Scotland four days ago.
His only switch is on the bench, where fit-again George North takes over from Owen Watkin, with North poised for a first Wales appearance since last season’s Six Nations finale against France.
Saturday’s victors will be firmly on the road to a possible Six Nations title and Grand Slam triumph, yet as much interest surrounds the tactical battle between two revered rugby brains.
There were no mind games from Gatland at his team announcement press conference yesterday, although he did deliver a couple of playful one-liners. Asked if he noticed a difference among the England players from previous British and Irish Lions tours on last year’s New Zealand excursion, Gatland said: “I didn’t notice because it is the first time they’ve had a few English players!”
And encouraged to discuss Jones possibly being the 2021 Lions chief in South Africa, Gatland added: “He’ll do a great job if he’s Lions coach. A 3-0 [Test series win] will be expected. It’s probably the easiest of the three tours, isn’t it?
“I’m just intrigued by watching him, the way he prepares and how he goes about doing things. You learn as much as you possibly can from others. The game changes and you learn from watching other people.”
England are on a mission to overtake New Zealand as world No 1 by the 2019 World Cup – they host the All Blacks in November – and Gatland said: “You can’t argue with Eddie’s ambition and their record in the past couple of seasons.
“That [No 1] has definitely been their target, and we will know by the autumn. That’s going to be interesting.
“You set yourself up for a big game, and then you potentially become No 1 or someone pulls your pants down. He [Jones] doesn’t need to nick anything from me. I’m the one learning from him. He has obviously done a great job, so I am watching him particularly closely.”
Liam Williams, who was due to resume full training with the Wales squad on Monday following an abdominal injury, is not involved this weekend – he looks likely to get game-time with his club Saracens. Gatland also said starting lock Cory Hill should be training fully tomorrow after undergoing a head injury assessment.
Wales were the last team to beat England at Twickenham in a Six Nations fixture, winning 19-12 in 2012, and Rob Evans says there is “a good vibe” in Gatland’s squad following the demolition job on Scotland.
Wales also claimed a Twickenham triumph during the 2015 World Cup that accelerated England’s tournament demise and prop Evans said: “It’s Wales versus England, and I know there is a lot of hype there, but we are really happy with the result last week and so there is a good vibe in the squad.
“Obviously that helps after a good win, but we aren’t afraid of anything. We are looking forward to playing England on the weekend. We are there to do a job, really, and get a result, so that is the main priority for us.”
Both countries displayed strong set-piece performances in their opening game wins against Scotland and Italy, with the scrum and lineout battle likely to be pivotal in terms of deciding Saturday’s encounter.
Evans, who once again teams up with his Scarlets colleagues Ken Owens and Samson Lee in the Wales front-row, said: “We always prioritise our scrum. We went into the [Scotland] game wanting to provide a platform for the backs to use the ball, and we were pretty happy with the way we came out of it. I am sure Saturday will be a good test, but we are not scared or anything. We are looking forward to it.”