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Johnson blasts back after Gatland taunts

Martin Johnson has hit back at Warren Gatland, saying the public damning of England hooker Dylan Hartley on the eve of the Six Nations showed the Wales head coach was feeling under intense pressure.

While he always preferred to measure himself by deed rather than word as a player, Johnson showed on Wednesday that he was getting used to the verbal skirmishing required as a manager. He also revealed that while Hartley had been taken aback in being singled out in the verbal attack, the Northampton captain had also insisted that he had "nothing to prove to Warren Gatland."

Gatland accused Hartley of many things, notably of cracking under duress and of lacking the stomach for a fight. Yet Johnson suggested that England, who are currently at a training camp in the Algarve, would be spurred into rallying round their team-mate. It is a combination of age-old enmity and Wales' recent paltry record that Johnson believes pushed Gatland into his remarks on Monday.


"Pressure affects people in different ways and it was not unexpected in that this is something Warren has done before," said Johnson. "Wales are under pressure with their performances and not winning of late. They're desperate for a win.

"Their opening game is against us in Cardiff. It's a game to get the blood flowing. Warren's had a blast. It's not particularly subtle. It's pretty obvious what he's trying to do. But we rally round guys when they're singled out. You are potentially giving ammunition to the opposition. It brings a team together.

"We want Dylan to be Dylan, and play with aggression. But you've got to be smart as well. We've got two players suspended (Gloucester lock Dave Attwood and London Irish full-back Delon Armitage) and we don't want to do things that get us into trouble."

When asked yesterday if he regretted what he had said, Gatland's answer was no. "There's always a bit of spice in this game," he said. "Let's see how he (Hartley) responds."

English wing Chris Ashton (thigh) and flanker Hendre Fourie (calf) have not been able to train this week, but both are expected to be available for selection. None of the players are involved in matches this weekend.

The three France-based players -- Stade Francais flanker James Haskell, lock Tom Palmer, and Toulon fly-half Jonny Wilkinson -- will remain with England even though the Paris-based club had requested that Haskell and Palmer return for their Top 14 match at Castres. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent