Gatland fires Hartley broadside
January 25, 2011
Dylan Hartley did not endear himself to the Wales camp when playing against Cardiff © PA Photos
Wales coach Warren Gatland has launched a stunning attack on England hooker Dylan Hartley ahead of next week's Six Nations opener in Cardiff.
Gatland has goaded Hartley in an attempt to get under the feisty forward's skin and in the process has added extra spice to the February 4 clash and potentially started a war of words should the England camp decide to bite back.
Hartley is expected to pack down alongside Andrew Sheridan and Dan Cole in England's front row at the Millennium Stadium and if he needed any extra motivation to put in a strong performance, Gatland happily provided it.
Gatland said: "We were pleased with the way our lineout went in the autumn. England's imploded a little bit against South Africa, and a couple of weeks ago I saw Hartley go to pieces (for Northampton) against Leicester. He's always got a lot to say, hasn't he? Let's see what he has got to offer and how he fronts up against us on February 4."
Gatland indicated that Northampton captain Hartley did not endear himself to the Wales camp following incidents during two explosive Heineken Cup clashes between Saints and Cardiff Blues before Christmas. Hartley and Blues hooker Gareth Williams were sin-binned after a flare-up in the Pool One encounter at Franklin's Gardens, with the players exchanging words as they left the field.
Blues' Wales scrum-half Richie Rees then received a 12-week ban after being cited for making contact with the eye area of Hartley during the return fixture a week later. Hartley gave evidence by telephone to Rees' subsequent disciplinary hearing in Dublin.
Gatland added: "He was responsible with some of his evidence for Richie Rees being banned for a long period, and he was not prepared to step outside to the back of the stand with Gareth Williams when invited to do so, so we will see how he fronts up against us."
Gatland fully expects England to come at Wales through their pack, which is hardly a surprise, especially given that Wales will be without their injured British and Irish Lions Test props Gethin Jenkins and Adam Jones.
"England have no choice but to take us on up front," he said. "Their front row is not particularly mobile, and they are limited without Courtney Lawes and Tom Croft. The strength of their team will be scrum-time, a driving lineout and physicality. England played some great rugby against Australia in the autumn, but I think they then got a little bit of a surprise against South Africa because they were very physical against England up front.
"The last few years we've had a great record against England, nothing to fear, and we should be favourites at home. Friday night in Cardiff, playing against England, you have got to be excited about that as a player. It should be a great occasion."
Despite Wales' run of seven successive Tests without a win - their sequence of six defeats and a draw stretches back to the final game of last season's Six Nations when they beat Italy - Gatland remains upbeat.
He said: "I don't feel we are too far away. We've created chances. Even though there is a bit of a run there, it is not as if teams are thrashing us. Discipline is massive for us, not just discipline in terms of penalties and yellow cards, but in terms of some of our decision-making that has been costly. It's about making sure we control our own destiny. We've been guilty of not doing that, making critical errors that have been really costly for us. It's an area we need to improve on."
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