Gatland’s mind games don’t phase England

Strong rivalries and fierce competition have seen all kinds of tactics used by teams to try and advance through the Rugby World Cup group of death, but England back-rower Billy Vunipola maintains he enjoys Wales coach Warren Gatland’s mind games and says they don’t phase his team.

Saturday’s (Sunday AEST) clash between England and Wales is likely to prove pivotal in determining the outcome of Pool A – which also includes Australia, Fiji and Uruguay – and the match has added spite after former British and Irish Lions coach Gatland claimed England were confused over their game-plan after the squad announcement.

“It’s good Warren does this, but it only works if you react to it but it is something that we don’t really pay any attention to,” Vunipola said.

“Wales are a very good team, they have won so many trophies in however many years, but we won’t be falling for any of Warren’s mind games.

“He is very good at them and a seasoned professional at what he does so we can’t get into that kind of nitty gritty stuff.

“Mind games don’t really interest me. I’m more interested in the fact we are playing Wales at home in a World Cup and I am in it.”

Vunipola made the surprising admission after England scored four tries against Fiji that he did not know the bonus-point scoring system was in place during the World Cup.

It was the 22-year-old who forced his way over in the dying seconds to secure England the maximum five-point haul and apart from his ignorance of the rules, it was an outstanding evening that saw him give England renewed momentum from the bench.

Vunipola’s direct running was exactly what was needed at a time when his team was drifting and he is likely to be recalled at the expense of Ben Morgan when Wales visit Twickenham.

“My job off the bench is trying to up the tempo and trying to add to the foundations that have been built,” Vunipola said.

“The boys who come on are just building on the foundations of what has already been done by the players who start.

“Everyone wants to start but the position I am in at the moment is very tough and the competition is very high, but that’s international rugby.”

England coach Stuart Lancaster will also be looking at halfback, lock and centre when he considers what changes must be made after a performance against Fiji that renewed concerns over the scrum, breakdown and discipline.

Saracens duo Richard Wigglesworth and Owen Farrell made a difference when they came on, as did former NRL star Sam Burgess who is beginning to apply pressure on Brad Barritt at inside centre.

“We’ve never said we were going to pick the same team week in, week out. We select it on a week by week basis, assess the performance and decide what’s best to play Wales,” Lancaster said.

“We know them pretty well, we know the quality of the players they’ve got in their team, and how well Warren Gatland and Shaun Edwards will have them prepared to play us.

“We’ll watch their game on Sunday, and we’ll meet Sunday night and then decide our selection on Monday, or Tuesday.”

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