Alun Wyn Jones laughs off ‘uncle Eddie’s’ verbal barbs ahead of Six Nations grudge match
Eddie Jones’s fairly unsubtle attempt to rattle England’s opponents by calling into question Rhys Patchell’s “bottle” while raising doubts about Alun Wyn Jones’ sportsmanship were greeted with a combination of bemusement and good humour at Wales team hotel on Friday.
Only time will tell if the England coach’s attempts to undermine Warren Gatland’s team by deploying a series of verbal barbs – notably that fly-half Patchell lacks experience to run a major international and lock Jones went too far in berating referee Pascal Gaüzère at the end of Wales’ opening win over Scotland – but on the surface all seemed fairly serene as the visitors prepared to try to repeat their memorable 2015 World Cup triumph at Twickenham.
World Rugby sources confirmed that no official complaint had been received about Wales captain Jones questioning the decision to award Peter Horne’s late try although “conversations had been had”, but whatever the rights or wrongs of the Australian’s claims, they were laughed off by at least one of his targets.
You need fairly broad shoulders to win 123 international caps and the Wales lock and England coach's namesake seemed entirely unfazed about the criticism, even thanking “uncle Eddie” for highlighting his spikiness at the end of a game Wales won at a canter.
“I’ve not seen an exact transcription so I can’t comment too much on the specifics but it was more important that World Rugby, when they were asked for clarification, came back and essentially said that they saw nothing untoward with what happened,” said Wales captain Jones.
“More importantly, Pascal at the time, had no issue or no issue after the game. We’re very grateful that he [Eddie] flagged that up the fact that you be over-zealous and sometimes appear to go outside the spirit of the game. I’ve very grateful that Eddie has flagged that up with World Rugby. I’ll keep doing what I’m doing and keep within the spirit of the game.
“It’s the sort of thing you can choose your friends but you can’t choose your family. I’ll have to have a chat with uncle Eddie after the game. I don’t know if there’s an element of deflection or anything like that. But ultimately as players that kind of stuff goes on outside the tent. We’re inside the tent and we need to deal with what goes on inside the white lines.”
The Australian’s claim that Scarlets No 10 Patchell will face a considerably more challenging afternoon’s work at Twickenham than he did against an underwhelming Scotland outfit was more a case of stating the obvious than any cynical attempt to undermine a young player’s confidence.
The same could not necessarily be said about his decision to question the 24-year-old’s “bottle” ahead of a seventh international appearance which will again see Patchell charged with pulling the strings in the absence of injured fly-halves Dan Biggar and Rhys Priestland.
“There are obviously going to be questions marks [around Rhys],” said the Wales captain. “We’ve lost Dan Biggar and other guys. People forget that Rhys Patchell has been round the squad for a good few years. He’d probably like a few more caps, as would others in amongst it, but he has experience of being around the camp. It is a step up, no-one would deny that, playing away against England at Twickenham but Patch is ready for that and he is focussed on the job in hand.”
Asked if it was insulting to question a Welsh team’s bottle, the veteran lock was equally sanguine.
“We’re sponsored by a well-known brewery for a long time so there’s plenty of bottle there,” he joked.
“That’s [bottle] the salt of a rugby player. That’s what you’re made of. Irrelevant of how much experience you have or haven’t got, those questions are going to be asked. Whether it’s from your own camp or another you’ve got to answer those. That’s the pressure that is professional sport, whatever sport that may be.
“It’s funny. Last week I was asked the question about being the underdog at home. No-one’s asked that question because it’s already presumed or assumed. It’s funny the focus has been on a lot of words rather than important 80 minutes tomorrow. That’s the focus for us.”
With rain forecast around south west London on Saturday the storm clouds are gathering in every sense. But Wales appear focused on repeating the performance they produced against Scotland while attempting to derail an England team that has won its last 14 Six Nations fixtures in succession at Twickenham.
Jones added: “You see the performances they’ve rolled out. Their ability to have changes in crucial areas, the strength in depth when people come in they’re able to fill the void and continue in a similar vein. They’ve got a strong 15, a strong 23-24, but we’ll have to face them off.”
It is building up to be some game.