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Warren Gatland Admits His Mind Games Can Sometimes Be A Pile Of Pants

Warren Gatland has admitted he can occasionally come a cropper when he tries to mess with the minds of Englishmen.

The Wales coach has a history of pinpointing individual players who wear the red rose in an effort to undermine them or their teammates.

It worked well six months ago on the way to the Six Nations Grand Slam, but was less successful before the same fixture eight years ago.

As Wales prepare to face England on Saturday in their return World Cup warm-up in Cardiff, Gatland has been honest about his incendiary character assessments and said: “Sometimes you get your pants pulled down” when making comments about players.

England prop Kyle Sinckler returns to the Principality Stadium on Saturday – six months after Gatland said “emotionally, he can be a bit of a timebomb” and “there is a challenge sometimes with his temperament.”

Gatland made those remarks prior to a Six Nations showdown between the countries in Cardiff that saw Wales triumph 21-13 on their way to a Grand Slam-winning campaign.

Earlier in that tournament, Sinckler was embroiled in an exchange with Ireland flanker Peter O’Mahony in Dublin, and against France eight days later he was reminded of “rugby’s values”‘ by match referee Nigel Owens after slapping Les Bleus forward Arthur Iturria on the head.

Sinckler, who is among England’s replacements this weekend, was taken off by head coach Eddie Jones 55 minutes into that Cardiff clash.

He had conceded two key penalties in quick succession and had an ongoing battle with Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones, although an outstanding overall performance before then was highlighted by him making 16 first-half tackles.

“I saw him on Sunday (at Twickenham) and shook his hand,” said Gatland, who coached Sinckler on the 2017 British and Irish Lions tour of New Zealand.

“I made a couple of comments about him in the Six Nations. I thought he was brilliant and played exceptionally well against us for most of that game.

“There is no doubt he is an outstanding player. His work-rate in the Six Nations for that time he was on the pitch was outstanding with the number of tackles and carries he made.

“Sometimes you make comments about players and it can be effective.

“It wasn’t so much about him, it was probably seeing the reaction of three or four English players who it had more of an impact on because they were constantly looking out for him.

“Sometimes comments are effective, sometimes you get your pants pulled down.

“I made a comment about (former England captain) Dylan Hartley a few years ago, and he was man of the match and made me look like an idiot.

“I want the best for Kyle. He’s an outstanding player. He knows there are a couple of things to work on in his game, and hopefully he does that.”

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Of far more concern to Gatland will be how Wales respond following last weekend’s 33-19 defeat against England, when the Six Nations champions encountered unfamiliar set-piece problems.

Their scrum came under pressure, and an overthrown lineout ball by Wales hooker Ken Owens led directly to an England try just before half-time as they opened up a 14-point lead.

French referee Mathieu Raynal was at the helm last Sunday, and Gatland added: “I was really disappointed with how the scrums were controlled.

“We’ve gone in there and tried to be positive about how we’ve been told they will be refereed. We felt there was a lot of early pushing and pre-engagement.

“Having spoken to World Rugby about that in terms of the way it’s going to be managed and what we were originally told it would be controlled, we felt that definitely wasn’t the case on Sunday.

“We needed to react quicker and better to the way it was controlled, but we didn’t do that. The scrum will definitely improve this weekend.

“When you go back and look at the scrums in our game and then look at the ones in the Ireland versus Italy game or the Argentina versus South Africa game last weekend, they are completely different in terms of starting position, set-up and engagement.

“We need clarity and consistency in that area.”

Gatland has also promised that Wales will play with more urgency from the opening whistle than in their lethargic performance at Twickenham.

If they don’t, he has warned, then they risk not going to the World Cup.

“We were pretty relaxed on Sunday. We play our best when we are on edge mentally and, apart from the injuries, we have chosen the guys again for this weekend.

“If some of them do not front up and perform, they will open the door for someone else. We have made the players aware that they are under pressure.”


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