Eddie Jones has been psychologically “cuddling” his England rugby players in anticipation of the renewal of a special rivalry against Wales.
The Six Nations champions head to Cardiff armed with a confidence-enhancing 15 successive Test victories while knowing they underperformed when opening their title defence with a patchy 19-16 win over France.
On two occasions this week Jones has apologised to his players en masse, confessing that he failed to prepare them properly against Les Blues, and in the build-up to Saturday’s Principality Stadium showdown he has been busy working on their psyches.
“You’ve got to either whip them, kick them, cuddle them, kiss them. You’ve got to find some way to get a better performance,” he said.
“There’s been a bit of cuddling this week, not in the physical sense, but in the mental sense. No one in particular.
“We were disappointed with how we played against France because we wanted to start the tournament with a bang.
“They played well – people are underestimating how well France played and how good they are going to be.
“Wales is one of those games where, if you’re an Englishman, if you’re going to get excited. It’s one of those traditional games and means so much to their supporters and to our supporters.
“It means so much to our team, it means so much to their team. That always adds a little bit. We will definitely play better, we will play well enough to win.
“But every Test is important and it’s important for us as a team that we play with commitment, with ferocity and with desire.
“We have got so many supporters out there we want to show them that every game matters.”
England have experienced a roller-coaster of emotions on their previous two visits to Cardiff, collapsing to a 30-3 rout in 2013 that denied them a Grand Slam on the final day of the championship before exacting revenge with a stirring 21-16 triumph two years later.
While the fortunes on those days were polar opposite, the highly-charged atmosphere at England’s most challenging Six Nations destination were much the same and Jones has braced his side for hostility and Welsh “shenanigans”.
How his players respond to the environment will offer Jones an insight into their potential.
“I think it depends on how good a side you are,” said Jones, who requested that the Principality Stadium roof be kept open.
“And the good teams win at home and win away. That’s the reality. New Zealand win at home and away.
“If you’re not such a good team you tend to win at home because you feel comfortable, the crowd’s good for you. We want to be a good team. We want to win at home and away.”
Adding a deeply personal dimension to the round two clash is that it will be Jones’ first visit to Cardiff since Australia’s 24-22 loss there in 2005, a result that instigated his sacking as head coach.
“When you lose the national job, you are devastated and I was devastated. I remember a journalist coming and saying: ‘you’re going to get the sack’. But that’s not pertinent to this game,” Jones said.