Jamie Roberts column: Warren Gatland didn't say a word after the defeat to England... he didn't have to

COLUMN: Maybe we should have played more openly against England. We need to remember that ahead of Sunday’s match against Scotland

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The Independent Online

If you’re willing as a player to take pats on your back when things are going well then, by the same token, you have to accept the criticism from your coaches and team-mates when things go awry.

I’m not going to lie – it’s been a tough week. There’s been some finger-pointing, but we’ve always been an honest group of players. Responsibility is very important, even if it’s meant the past week has been a difficult process.

To lose to England in the opening game of the Six Nations obviously makes it very tough for us in the Championship. “Disappointing” is the only word that properly sums up the aftermath to that game.

The atmosphere at the Millennium Stadium never disappoints. Sadly, we did; simply put, we didn’t give such an amazing venue the performance it deserved. We played well below the standards we expected on Friday night and we’re not ashamed to admit it.

It was a big kicking battle and you’d have to say we ended up coming out second best in that. Did we get too caught in an aerial battle? Maybe we did but we didn’t want to concede penalties in our own half playing high-risk rugby.

On reflection, perhaps the risks were worth taking and we might have played more openly. The reality is we didn’t see enough of the ball in the second half and, without it, you simply cannot win games of that magnitude. But sport is like that sometimes. Sometimes you have to lose.

After the game, Warren Gatland didn’t say a word; he didn’t need to. He could see the disappointment and hurt in the players, so we all got changed into our suits and moved on to the post-match function.

It wasn’t until we came back together in camp on Tuesday morning that the dissection of our performance began.

Losing at home to England, if you’re taking the positives – and we’ve done that this week – has been a kick up the backside that has ensured everyone has been on edge in training, the players and coaches alike. That’s been a very helpful knock-on effect.

And, sure, addressing the aerial battle has been a massive part of training this week, as it is approaching every international with the way the game is played these days.

Much has been made in the aftermath about the World Cup, with England in our pool and, sure, we all would have liked to have taken that psychological boost from a game like that but we can’t think about that. Our focus needs to be on this tournament and it’s one that we genuinely believe we can win. There’s no other approach for us as a unit. We move on from a nasty Friday night and that’s it.

The events of the 2013 Championship are still pretty fresh in the mind. We had a dreadful first half against Ireland and lost that opening game. But the following weekend we had a very special result in Paris.

It proved to be our springboard to the title and for Paris read Murrayfield on Sunday. We need to be at our best, as we were in my current home town, to win.

But Scotland will be incredibly motivated. Like us, they could have won their opening game but didn’t. And like us they can’t afford to lose another game. If either side does in Edinburgh we’re pure and simply dead and buried in the Championship.

 

They’ll no doubt fancy their chances, looking at the way we played in the second half against England, and Vern Cotter has given them tremendous self-belief as a side. Plus, it’s always special playing at Murrayfield, with the bagpipes, “Flower of Scotland” and the whole emotion of the occasion.

If we play the sort of clever rugby we managed in the first half against England then I’m very confident. We attacked well and caused England a lot of problems but we need to maintain that intensity throughout.

Scotland have their own formidable back-line threats. Alex Dunbar is a big, physical centre who runs good lines and is a tough defender; and then there’s Stuart Hogg, who I know well from the British & Irish Lions. He’s one of the great running full-backs in world rugby and he’s got a vicious sidestep that’s left me red-faced a few times in my career. He’s a special player.

We have a settled look to our squad, with just the one change in the backs with Liam Williams coming in on the wing. He really is a quality player who brings a lot of energy and pace to the side. He’s the perfect back-line team-mate as he loves to attack as well as putting his body on the line.

Away from the game, he’s a guy that likes a joke and a laugh but he takes his rugby very seriously and he’ll be as much of a threat on the wing as in his preferred position of full-back.

A really big deal was made about George North’s concussion in the England game and so it should be. I think in many ways my view on the issue is irrelevant but giving him another week looks the sensible decision, keeping him away from another potentially dangerous situation.

It’s a decision that’s been made solely on health grounds, with player welfare in mind. We wouldn’t have seen this five or 10 years ago and it shows how much the game has moved forward in this regard.

Of course, it was very unfortunate that the medics didn’t see the incident at the time but the positive is the outcome for the wider good of the game, with the use of replays for concussions going forward. That can only be a good thing.

I know George is bitterly disappointed to miss out on selection. Like any proud Welshman, he wants to play every game. It will be tough for him watching the game, but he’ll appreciate the decision in the long term.

Within the Wales camp, player welfare is of the utmost importance and I’ve never once thought as a player that my safety and well-being was anything other than of paramount importance.

George is a big loss to us but Liam will give us another great attacking option.

Like the Millennium Stadium, Murrayfield will be a cauldron. Will there be another tunnel stand-off like there was on Friday? I don’t know.

What I do know is that as a team we’ve played some of our best rugby when we’ve been wounded and on the back foot. We have the chance at Murrayfield to put right what we did so wrong. We just have to go for it.

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