Rowntree puts friendship to one side
February 21, 2012
Graham Rowntree barks out the orders in training © Getty Images
England coach Graham Rowntree has praised the Welsh set-up but claims any notion of friendship will be put to one side while the two nations go head to head at Twickenham on Saturday.
England's forwards coach knows the Wales coaching staff and a number of their key players from the 2009 British and Irish Lions tour and he holds them in the highest regard. Wales have managed just one victory over England at Twickenham since 1988 - in the 2008 Grand Slam campaign - but they are favourites heading into this weekend's showdown.
Warren Gatland is building a strong case to be the Lions head coach in 2013 after building on Wales' World Cup semi-final appearance with wins against Ireland and Scotland. Rowntree is full of admiration for the Triple Crown-chasing Welsh, who have been boosted by the return of captain Sam Warburton and lock Alun Wyn Jones.
But the former Leicester prop insisted England are ready to defend their turf.
"It is hard to dislike this Welsh team - but I'll do my best to try," Rowntree said. "I have worked with these guys on the Lions. I have been impressed by their skill. They are good guys as well.
"They are a complete outfit in terms of what they can produce in the tight and dynamically in the loose. They are the form team, coming to Twickenham as favourites for the first time in a long time. They have a great opportunity to come to Twickenham and roll us at the weekend.
"They would have taken great confidence from the World Cup and a great win in Ireland. They will be fancying their chances. Something we spoke about all week is matching that challenge. I am ready to play. I think we are going to be able to step up."
England are also unbeaten in the championship but they have ground out victories over Scotland and Italy, scoring two chargedown tries from Charlie Hodgson compared to Wales' six. But Rowntree does not believe the gap between the two teams is as great as the respective performances so far would suggest, given England met Scotland in the rain and Italy in the snow.
"Scotland scuppered a try before half time (when it was 3-3) and then the game opened up when they had two in the sin-bin," Rowntree said. "Compare that game with our game when we were in the Olympic Stadium (in Rome) with sleet on the ball and a team baying for our blood.
"They're playing under a roof against 13 men in the second half. There's a bit of a difference there. We are going to be up for the challenge. We have only scored two tries from charge-downs but our endeavour is good.
"We have had difficult circumstances which we have all spoken about the last couple of weeks. Scotland threw everything at us and over in Italy, in difficult conditions, in the second half we showed with a bit of ball how we can attack.
"This is the next game and I think we are going to be able to step up."
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