England head coach Eddie Jones is the king of mind games and he’s recognised that Wales fly-half Rhys Patchell, despite his inexperience, is someone who can bring creativity and flair to his side’s backline.
Patchell, in only his sixth appearance for Wales, showed in the 34-7 rout of Scotland glimpses of an ability to suddenly ignite a very dangerous three-quarter line. He played with real authority and Jones will be feeling the threat of that.
Jones will be extremely cognisant of the danger which Patchell, who is essentially his nation’s third-choice No10 behind the injured Dan Biggar and Rhys Priestland, and Wales pose, particularly if they start to get a foothold and an ascendency in the pack.
So what better way to derail his and Wales’s preparation than by heaping pressure onto the 24-year-old and shining the spotlight on him? That’s exactly what Jones has done by questioning whether he has the bottle to cope with the expectation on his shoulders.
It’s slightly unfair but it’s gamesmanship and what international sport is all about. There is no room for niceties; Jones has a job to do and he will do whatever it takes to give England an edge in this game and in their quest to win a third successive Six Nations title.
Saturday’s clash at Twickenham is going to be a really intriguing battle as I don’t think anyone expected Wales to play as well as they did against Scotland. I certainly didn’t and have had to eat some humble pie this week.
Wales were excellent but, if anything, they played too well as it has got people asking questions about their potential suitability to challenge for the Six Nations crown.
Before the Scotland clash, there were those who wondered whether they were capable of winning just a few matches, but that’s all changed and Jones will be loving all the attention, which is doubtless unwanted, that Wales have been receiving.
But, for me, there is still more pressure on Jones. His side are playing at Twickenham and even though it’s Wales, who are three-time Six Nations winners under Warren Gatland, there is still the expectation that they will beat the principality.
Put it this way, you don’t become the best team in the world, which is England’s consistently stated goal, without beating Wales at home – it has to be a given.
There is a level of pressure which comes with that and, by brining more petrol to the mind game fire than Gatland this week, Jones is clearly trying to deflate the expectation, especially with chinks still evident in the England armour.
I still think there are frailties within the England team despite their seven-try demolition of Italy in Rome on Sunday. That showdown didn’t really tell us much as Italy, although they put in a stoic showing, are simply not a good team.
In actual fact, there is tons of pressure on both sides. England have a burden because of their ambitions and worries over squad depth with injuries, while Wales are probably wondering whether they merit the billing they are receiving.
Ollie Phillips is a former England Sevens captain and now a director at PwC, focusing on organisational, cultural and technological change.