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Alex Spink: Warren Gatland risks a World Cup backlash by winding up England

04 Sep | BY Betway | MIN READ TIME |
Alex Spink: Warren Gatland risks a World Cup backlash by winding up England

The Daily Mirror rugby union correspondent enjoys the Wales coach's fearless pre-match chat, but says he should focus on his own side

Wales play Italy on Saturday but they are talking about only one match in the Principality and it’s not this one.

Warren Gatland’s men are expected to beat both the Azzurri and Uruguay, in their World Cup opener two weeks on Sunday, with their eyes closed.

Which is why already towering over these fixtures is the Twickenham showdown against England at Twickenham on 26 September.

This is the game that could decide Wales’ World Cup fate, a ‘Pool of Death’ contest more significant than any match played by the Welsh since their 2011 semi-final against France in Auckland.

Gatland knows it better than anyone which is why he has this week thrown one of his famous verbal grenades in the direction of the England camp.

Wales are “much more settled than England and confident in our selection and combinations”, he said.

He went on to question whether Stuart Lancaster’s squad know how they want to play – and whether the 31-man group they have selected for the tournament boasts much “impact” off the bench.

You’ve got to love Gatland.

He is fearless to the point of recklessness with his pre-match chat, as well as with his selections. And more often than not it works for his teams.

Against England of late, however, it has not. Since their Grand Slam battering in Cardiff in 2013, the Red Rose has won home and away.

READ: Rugby World Cup squads: The Home Nations verdict

The arch-enemy has done so by concentrating on themselves rather than taking the bait laid by Gatland to be “brave enough” to shut the Millennium Stadium roof in February – a scenario which, in all likelihood, would have favoured Wales.

Then, come the game itself, by refusing to fall for the crude attempt by Gatland’s team to have them marooned out on the pitch, amid the hostility of a Friday night Cardiff crowd, while Wales sat chortling back in the home changing room.

That night belonged to England in every which way. Hence, perhaps, Gatland’s desire to wrest back the initiative with his mind games.

Wales’ victory in Ireland last weekend will have emboldened him – coming three weeks after the same opponents took his side apart at the Millennium.

But now they need to get their eye back on the ball.

Italy are smarting after back to back defeats by Scotland, not to mention the 61-20 humiliation inflicted upon them by Wales on the final day of the Six Nations.

They are a wounded outfit with nothing much left to lose. But as they showed when winning at Murrayfield in February, they retain the capability to spring a surprise if the opposition fails to show.

The potential for Wales to go into the England game on the back of two soft wins is very real.

That would do them no good at all. Gatland must not lose sight of that danger in his haste to wind up the opposition.

Right now he would be better served provoking his own team into a performance, than firing up an opponent against whom Wales dare not fail.

Wales v Italy betting

READ: Barritt to provide the missing link as England look to head into World Cup on a high

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