James Corrigan: Gatland's 'grenades' turn Jones into ultimate leading man

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The Independent Online

As English voices, both on the airwaves and the message boards, proceeded to change the lament from "we could have won" to "we should have won", the Wales players were at their team hotel yesterday morning seemingly oblivious to all the conjecture. One team had won. And in their eyes it had been the team who fully deserved to win.

"In fairness, not once out there did I think we were going to lose that game," said the heroic Wales lock Ian Gough. "It was definitely a game England 'could' have won. But the amount of possession we had and how we played, I thought we were a bit unlucky not to put more points on the board, especially with their indiscipline and the sin-binnings they had."

The two yellow cards were obviously a bone of deep contention for England, particularly as the opposing coach, Warren Gatland, all but predicted the dismissals in the build-up saying, "The team that's not playing the rugby tend to get the worst end of the stick when it comes to penalties and yellows". In the aftermath of a game he called "a proper Test match", Gatland accused the media of taking some of his "England are just like the Leicester of old" comments out of context. The Kiwi did, however, confess that there had been a few psychological shots fired. Said Gatland: "There's always a few mind games being played. You throw a couple of grenades out there and see how people react." If it is any consolation to Martin Johnson, the Kiwi does not reserve the verbal explosives for the opposition.

"Warren is a clever guy and chucks grenades at his own players as well," revealed the Welsh captain, Ryan Jones (right). "It works for some people and not for others." It certainly seems to for Jones, whose position during the autumn internationals came under scrutiny. Gatland wanted his captain to be more prominent, both before the match and at the start of it. He was satisfied on both counts, particularly on Jones's "no second chances" team-talk which his team-mates confirmed was richly inspiring. "That's the best I've heard Ryan speak to the players in the dressing room," said Gatland.

"Warren is quite guarded so it's great to hear that," was Jones's response. "There was a lot made about the autumn campaign and at times it was difficult to cope with personally. It is emotional but we said in the build-up that we could not get caught up in the momentum of it. This team has grown up."

This focus will be tested to maximum in the countdown to the Friday night match in Paris in two weeks, with all the talk about the chances of back-to-back Grand Slams for the first time in 100 years. There is at least one aspect to temper the hype as today the centre Jamie Roberts will undergo a scan on an injured shoulder.

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