England: we'll feed off Welsh hatred and 'target' their stars
War of words in full swing ahead of epic showdown at Twickenham on Sunday
THE war of words before this weekend's epic Six Nations clash between Wales and England is well under way, with England players lining up to talk of the "hate" they believe the Welsh have towards them and explain how they plan to turn their players into "targets" at Twickenham on Sunday.
There is no Grand Slam riding on this weekend's clash, but after the extraordinary events of last year's match, the game has huge significance for both teams. England were on course for a famous clean sweep last year and travelled to Cardiff with high hopes of victory, only to be trampled underfoot by the rampaging Welsh, who registered a record 30-3 win to claim the title for themselves.
Whoever emerges victorious on Sunday will be favourites to go on and win this year's Six Nations. If Wales claim the championship they will become the first side ever to win three in a row. If England triumph it will be only their second championship since 2003, and will be a huge boost ahead of next year's World Cup.
Young English winger Jack Nowell told the Daily Telegraph he was relishing the prospect of taking on the Welsh at Twickenham. "You are going out to play against a team that hate you and want to do anything to beat you up," he said.
Scrum-half Danny Care concurred. "You know when you play Wales that they don’t like you, which you kind of get used to as an England player and you relish that and look forward to the challenge," he explained.
There has been lots of talk of a reborn England side exacting revenge on a declining Wales side. And forwards coach Graham Rowntree has admitted that last year's match has "driven" England on, reports The Guardian. "We have come a long way from that [game] because we have learned from it," he said.
Earlier in the week one of his charges, flanker Tom Wood said last year's humiliation had to "fuel" their preparations this time round. "There's going to be a lot of talk of revenge and redemption and whatever else. We've got to be careful to use that in the right way."
One of the players in the spotlight will be hooker Dylan Hartley, who was singled out by Wales coach Warren Gatland as a weak link back in 2011, the last time England beat Wales.
"I'm very aware that there's a massive rivalry between England and Wales, and it's very historical. As a barometer this is a good game for us," he told the BBC. He also singled out Hartley Welsh stars Toby Faletau in the back row, hooker Richard Hibbard and inside centre Jamie Roberts. "We obviously look at talismen in other teams, [but] I prefer to call them targets. That's not a joke... You respect them because they provide a lot of momentum, but if you make them a target, it changes that."
But while the England players are being bullish there has been little noise from the Wales camp. However, coach Warren Gatland has announced his team for the match, with Lions stars Alun-Wyn Jones and Jonathan Davies returning to the line-up.