Eddie Jones defended Kyle Sinckler immediately after the Six Nations defeat against Wales that sent England’s Grand Slam hopes up in smoke, despite Warren Gatland claiming that the prop has “demons” that he needs to handle.
Gatland made a point of highlighting the Harlequins prop ahead of Wales’ 21-13 victory at the Principality Stadium on Saturday, claiming that he was an “emotional time-bomb” waiting to erupt.
Jones replaced Sinckler in the 57th minute immediately after he had conceded two penalties in quick succession, blocking fly-half Gareth Anscombe before grasping Welsh captain Alun Wyn Jones around the neck in a maul. The indiscretions cost England three points, but his departure also robbed England of one of their key defenders in Sinckler, and they went on to concede two tries in the final 10 minutes to suffer a Six Nations defeat against Wales for the first time in six years and end their hopes of a clean sweep.
“I thought he played pretty well,” Wales head coach Gatland said. "He gave away a couple of penalties and I think they'd identified that in the coaches' box, from an England perspective. The referee had had a talk to him, he'd given away a couple of penalties and so they made what they thought was a smart tactical decision.
"I thought he defended well, carried the ball well, his set-piece was good, and there's no doubt he is a fantastic rugby player. He's just got a few demons to deal with."
Jones defended the 25-year-old though, explaining that the reason for replacing him at the moment - to which Sinckler left to a chorus of boos from Welsh supporters - was merely tactical. “We just felt it was the opportune time to make a change,” Jones said. “Every time you make a change there’s a number of factors involved. He was starting to get a little bit tired. I know you guys want to single him out because Warren said what he said but don’t be unfair to him, boys. He’s a young player on the way up. Look after him a bit, hey.”
Jones accepted that his side came off second best after half-time, with Wales altering their tactical approach to expose the visitors in the air and out wide.
"It was a nip and tuck sort of a game, fine margins, you make one mistake it cost us a try that ultimately cost us the game,” he added.
"They beat us in the air, the penalty count was lopsided and when you are getting beaten in those two areas when it's a tight game, you are going to struggle to get the result you want and full credit to Wales, they played very well, deserved to win today, played smartly, and we just let ourselves down in the areas I spoke about."
Gatland said afterwards that he was “proud” of what his side had achieved, and claimed that they knew they would win when they left the team hotel earlier in the day due to a combination of how they had trained this week, how they had been underestimated and England’s recent record when it comes to their most important games.
“England were outstanding in the first two games,” noted Gatland, “but I look back on England in the last few years. When it’s really mattered, I’ve questioned whether they can win these big games.
“We’ve had a record of being pretty good in them. We’re in a good position because you guys were all talking England up, saying there was going to be 15 points in it. We knew exactly where we were and I said to the players they had no idea what animal was turning up this week but we did.
“It was probably one of the best weeks that I’ve had with the team. I’ve been involved with a lot of teams and yesterday’s captain’s run was as good as I’ve ever seen. I knew we were right mentally but we still have some improvements in our game.”
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