Warren Gatland has told Eddie Jones to mind his own business after the England coach said Wales looked “tired” before their Six Nations decider with Ireland in Cardiff. Jones also believes the Irish are “peaking” at the right time and says Scotland can expect “a bit of an explosion” from an England team still hoping to claim the title.
The final weekend hardly needs extra hype as an unchanged Wales seek to win a third Grand Slam in 11 years but, with England needing Ireland to do them a favour, Jones has queried whether Gatland’s side have enough in the tank to complete a clean sweep. “I’m just saying what I see, mate,” he said. “I see a team that’s looking tired; I see an Ireland team that’s peaking.
“Wales are a very good team. They are very well coached and great credit to them for what they have done, but it’s a tough tournament and you can see they’re getting tired. They have made more tackles than anyone else in the tournament and they’re playing against an Ireland side that seems to be peaking at the right time.
“Guys like Conor Murray, Johnny Sexton, Garry Ringrose and Peter O’Mahony weren’t in great form at the start of the tournament but they look like they’ve got their mojo back. I’m sure the crowd will help Wales overcome that tiredness but its going to be a great game.”
Jones’s assessment appears based on Wales’s attritional second half in Murrayfield, where they had to withstand a concerted Scotland fightback. Gatland, for one, believes England should be focusing on their own issues rather than querying Wales’s title credentials. “What the hell is Eddie Jones doing talking about our game? If it was me, I’d be concentrating on playing Scotland. If you look at the stats, England have made a hell of a lot more tackles than us in this tournament. My advice to Eddie is to concentrate on the Scotland match.”
The stats do indeed suggest England have averaged more tackles per game than anyone else in the tournament but, according to Jones, his squad are in prime fettle. “We had a training run on Wednesday which in terms of all the GPS data was by far our most impressive. So we’re going in a great direction and Saturday will be a bit of an explosion. There’s a great deal of urgency about what we want to do and the point we want to prove. We’ve got an opportunity to show we’re the best team in the Six Nations and approaching the best team in the world, and we’re not going to miss that opportunity.”
Jones is also keen to stress he foresees a brilliant future for Joe Cokanasiga despite omitting the 21-year-old Bath wing from his 23-man squad to face the Scots. Cokanasiga was man of the match against Italy last Saturday but has made way for the returning Jack Nowell, with Henry Slade, Ben Moon and Mark Wilson also returning to the starting line-up in place of Ben Te’o, Ellis Genge and Brad Shields.
The England head coach says he does not want Cokanasiga getting carried away by the rave notices he is already receiving, while there is also clearly a desire to prevent southern hemisphere rivals from studying the newcomer in too much detail before this autumn’s World Cup. Longer term, however, Jones has no doubt the wing will prove a huge asset for England. “I want him to play 100 Tests – I don’t want him to just play 10 Tests,” Jones added. “We don’t need to rush him. He’s still learning from being around the squad and will feature heavily in our warm-up games for the World Cup. I don’t need to fast-track him. There’s only one track: the right track.”
Scotland, meanwhile, have made six changes as they look to earn their first win at Twickenham since 1983. Hamish Watson, so impressive off the bench against Wales, returns to the starting back row alongside Exeter’s Sam Skinner, with Ben Toolis picked ahead of Jonny Gray in the second-row. Sean Maitland and Byron McGuigan are at full-back and wing with Sam Johnson back at inside centre.