ENGLAND captain Mike Tindall last night warned Wales coach Warren Gatland that his baiting of Dylan Hartley has fired up the whole team for the RBS 6 Nations opener in Cardiff this evening.
Gatland stirred up the hornets’ nest last week ahead of an encounter that rarely needs extra spice when he singled out hooker Hartley’s temperament as a weakness his side would look to exploit.
England manager Martin Johnson quickly dismissed the barbs as proof Gatland is feeling the pressure of seven Tests without victory, while Hartley himself has vowed not to be distracted by the sniping.
And Tindall insisted that the entire team had rallied around the Northampton Saints skipper, 24, and is bent on making the New Zealander eat his provocative words when battle commences in the Millennium Stadium.
“You have got to support your players. If anyone has a pop at one player they are having a pop at the team,” said the experienced Gloucester centre. “That is how we have to respond as a team, get behind each other and go out there to solve the problem.
“Dylan is a good enough professional to understand what is going on. I expect a big game out of him and hopefully the boys will rally around and put in the same performance for him.”
Regardless of who the pre-match war of words ends up favouring, it is guaranteed to heighten tensions for Tindall’s first match as skipper, in the absence of the injured Lewis Moody.
“It is always a fierce rivalry and that is the way it should be,” he added. “We are going to honour that by playing hard rugby on the field.”
The last time England won in the Welsh capital they went on to win the championship, and months later, the World Cup. Tindall, 32, is the only survivor from that starting XV and is urging his younger team-mates to take control from the first whistle or risk being overrun by a team brimming with talented backs.
“If we turn up there and play our game we believe we can win. That’s the challenge,” said Tindall. “The first 20 minutes we have to get out there and put a stop on it before it gets going. We have to start well.
“Wales always have the ability to pull out massive performances when things go right for them. We have to expect that to happen.”