Owen Farrell insists England are ready for any Welsh trickery in the tense moments before Saturday’s Guinness Six Nations title collision in Cardiff.
Four years ago Chris Robshaw ordered his players to wait in the tunnel instead of running into the Principality Stadium arena knowing that with Wales still in their changing room, they would deliberately be kept waiting on the pitch amid freezing temperatures.
The plan backfired as England prevailed 21-16 but more scheming is possible as indicated when Warren Gatland mischievously suggested that tractors of Welsh farmers could blockade the team bus when Eddie Jones’s squad travel through Newport on Friday afternoon.
Into Robshaw’s shoes as captain steps Owen Farrell and the inspirational Saracens playmaker knows composure is key if a campaign to unsettle his team materialises.
“If anything does get thrown at us, I’d expect or hope we would be calm enough to deal with it, whatever,” said Farrell.
“I am sure that Wales will be up for this game, we have got to make sure we are in the right place. But we want to be right for kick-off, not before that.
We’re evolving and we’re not anywhere near where we want to be either. Everyone has talked about our kicking game and what that has created, but our kicking game is only effective if there is space there.England’s Owen Farrell
“Games like this, big games, are usually about doing the simple things well, not trying to pull a rabbit out of a hat.”
England are favourites to seize the Six Nations title from Ireland and extended Jones’s unblemished winning run against Gatland to four Tests.
Resounding wins in Dublin and against France at Twickenham have placed them on course for a potential title decider against Wales, the only other Grand Slam chasing team left in 2019.
England dominate the try-scoring count with 10 from two games, 70 per cent of which have been engineered during moves including a tactical kick.
Finding space behind the defensive line has been a profitable tactic, but Farrell insists they have more strings to their bow.
“We’re evolving and we’re not anywhere near where we want to be either,” added Farrell.
“Everyone has talked about our kicking game and what that has created, but our kicking game is only effective if there is space there.
“And the space is only there if you are a threat with ball in hand. We’re making good decisions and that’s what rugby is about. We have got continue to make good decisions because we can’t think that one way or another is going to work for us.”
Gatland has identified “timebomb” Kyle Sinckler as a possible chink in England’s armour, but attack coach Scott Wisemantel insists it would be foolish to single the tighthead prop out.
Gatland picked Sinckler for all three Tests during the 2017 Lions tour to New Zealand and believes there is a “challenge with his temperament” that “other players are aware of”, although he denied there was a plan to exploit any vulnerability at the Principality Stadium.
“If they target him then they’re leaving 14 other blokes to do their jobs so good luck,” Wisemantel said.
“We saw in the Australia game during the autumn that he has a quick wit and can refocus very quickly. It’s probably Warren trying to stir the pot a bit.
“On the edge is the way he plays the game. Do you really want to take that away from someone? I don’t think so. He knows how to control himself and I don’t think it’s an issue at all.”
Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones, meanwhile, says “there is more in us” ahead of Saturday’s showdown.
England may be slight favourites ahead of kick-off, but Wales are unbeaten for a year, winning their last 11 games to equal the national record set between 1907 and 1910.
“As a squad, we are very real about our performances of late,” said Jones, who will make a record 18th appearance for a player from any country against England.
“To get the ‘W’ (win) is the most important thing, and people sometimes forget how you win. It’s all about the ‘W’, particularly at this level. There is more in us, and hopefully we can do that (on Saturday).
“It’s momentum. If you look at us in the autumn, we had momentum and we have maintained it. However you get that and achieve your wins, you want to keep your momentum, and that’s what we want to do (against England).
“I was asked to give a few words to describe the (England) encounter, and it’s always historic.
“The players on both sides know what they want to achieve and what this game means for the championship. It can affect the championship, and everyone knows that.
“Am I going to build it up? No, I will let you build it up.
“There is a danger we can get overly emotive and swept away and be tired coming into the game, so there is that element of feet on the ground and job of work to prepare ourselves.
“We are very real about our performances. We are our own harshest critics in the fact we have have left a few (points) out there.”