England v Wales: Beware mind games master in the underdogs' camp

Warren Gatland watches over Wales training
Warren Gatland watches over Wales training

England are hot favourites to follow up their opening win against Italy with a Twickenham triumph, but Ralph Ellis warns it won't be a formality.

"Around even money (currently 2.0811/10) for an England win by less than 12.5 points in the Handicap market looks a much better bet."

If it wasn't for the fact that Eddie Jones is Australian and Warren Gatland from New Zealand, you'd call them two British bulldogs.

When Wales arrive at Twickenham on Saturday the Six Nations clash will be as much about the collision between the two coaches as it will be about the two groups of players.

They have so much in common, both hookers in their time as players - arguably the most nitty-gritty of positions in a rugby team, the job that most requires you getting down and dirty. They've both taken that ferocious attitude into their coaching careers.

Home advantage coupled with their 23 wins from 24 Tests record under Jones makes England the 1.251/4 favourites in the Match Odds. Wales also have more than half a dozen of their top players missing for one reason or another.

But while I've backed England to do the Grand Slam this year, I've got to admit I'd be nervous about supporting them at those short odds this weekend.

If there's one reason why it is Gatland's pedigree, and the way you know he'd delight in putting one over a man who is being touted to replace him as Lions coach in South Africa in three years time.

Around even money (currently 2.0811/10) for an England win by less than 12.5 points in the Handicap market looks a much better bet.

Gatland has been very clever with the mind games this week, talking up Jones and talking up England. "I am the one learning things from Eddie," he claimed.

You sense that while he might be giving that message in public, behind the scenes he'll be telling his own players they have nothing to fear from England, even at Twickenham.

Wales prop Rob Evans gave a bit of a clue to the thinking as he talked about the Autumn experiment of a combined training day in Bristol between the two sets of forwards.

"We got quite a bit out of it," he said. "England always have a good pack but we are not scared of going there. We are not afraid of anyone."

For Jones this is a pivotal occasion. He's set out his ambition to make England the number one ranked side in the world by the time they go to the World Cup next year, which means he has to go unbeaten through the Six Nations and bring a side bang full of confidence to the Autumn collision with the All Blacks.

The power of England's opening 46-15 win in Italy made all the right statements, and I think England's team will be improved by having Danny Care starting.

The Harlequins star has won 43 of his previous 77 caps off the bench and gained a reputation as a "finisher" in the Jones regime, but if his pace can turn a game in the 65th minute, why can't it have even more impact in the first?

Those are the sort of small margins which will decide what will be a very tight game. Just sit back and relish as the two big beasts collide.

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