John Mitchell: Controlling mentality will be key in Six Nations climax

John Mitchell

John Mitchell has warned of the mental pressure facing Wales in the decisive week of their Grand Slam quest with England ready to pounce on any mishap in Cardiff.

Warren Gatland’s team will claim their first Championship clean sweep for seven years if they dispatch resurgent Ireland in the second of Saturday’s three fixtures.

England host struggling Scotland at Twickenham and know that should Wales falter, they are well placed to seize the crown in the climax to the tournament.

Six Nations history is littered with Grand Slam attempts that have failed at the final hurdle and Mitchell, Eddie Jones’ number two and a former New Zealand boss, insists the magnitude of the occasion must be embraced.

“Big Test matches and big Test match weeks require you to control your mentality. That’s what the best teams in the world do,” England’s defence coach said.

“The best teams are able to control their emotions and their mentality and focus on the key aspects of the performance, making sure they don’t get bored with the plan because you know you’re going to absorb pressure at some point.

“Sometimes if you get distracted by external focuses it becomes mentally draining and can take the energy away from you, which is most important when you’re in a game that’s going to be as absorbing as it will be.

“The way to embrace it is to get excited by it rather than see it as a mental burden or see it as something more different. The game in itself creates the tempo and the intensity. You just go with it.”

Billy Vunipola has experienced both the triumph and agony of a Grand Slam week, helping England over the line in Paris in 2016 before falling on approach to the podium in Dublin a year later.

“The thought of doing a Grand Slam is unbelievably exciting,” the Saracens number eight said.

“When you turn up at the game, I remember playing in that game against France and we were almost a little bit scared.

“That’s understandable because there’s so much pressure on you to produce. What will help Wales is that they’re playing at home.

England v Italy – Guinness Six Nations – Twickenham Stadium

“We played our hand against Wales in round three and lost. We’ve accepted that now.

“It’s unfortunate that we don’t have power in our own hands, but the only thing we can control is trying to beat Scotland.”

The Scots will limp into Twickenham beset by a sickening run of injuries as yet another Six Nations that promised much but delivered nothing draws to a conclusion. Mitchell is still ready for a frenzied afternoon, however.

Maro Itoje

“Our game will definitely be highly unstructured, it’ll be frenetic, chaotic and one can’t afford to get bored at any point in time in this match,” Mitchell said.

“This will be like some of the toughest Test matches we’ve played in the last year – because we’re playing Scotland. They’ve got their last game and we’ve got our last game.”

Lions second row Maro Itoje has been ruled out of Saturday’s clash by a knee injury, limiting his game time in this Six Nations to 53 minutes against Ireland, but Jack Nowell has recovered from his shoulder issue.

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