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Gatland explains his England comment

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Gatland finally explains what he really meant about England playing their final in the semi-final

Warren Gatland has responded after being witheringly put down by Eddie Jones earlier this week. In the wake of Wales’ semi-final defeat to South Africa on Sunday, Gatland had suggested: ”We have seen in previous World Cups that teams sometimes play their final in semi-finals and don’t always turn up for a final. So it will be interesting to see how England are next week and it could be a good game.”

That remark didn’t go down well with England boss Jones as he prepares his team to face the Springboks in the final following last Saturday’s dethronement of the All Blacks. “You just send my best wishes to Warren to make sure he enjoys the third and fourth place play-off,” said Jones in a tongue-in-cheek comment at England’s media conference on Tuesday. 

A day later, having unveiled his XV for that ridiculed third and fourth place play-off versus New Zealand, Gatland elaborated on what he had meant last Sunday when he spoke about England and their final prospects. “I was reflecting on the experiences I’ve seen in the past,” he explained. “I was thinking about 2011 and the All Blacks.

“They had a big game against Australia in the semi-final and they maybe looked at that as their final. They played France in the final and it was probably a game they thought they could potentially win comfortably. It ended up being a very tight game.

“England were excellent against the All Blacks – it was the best I’ve seen England play in the last 10 years. They were outstanding. It will be a great final with two physical teams and I hope a northern hemisphere team can win the World Cup. It would have been great if two of us could have been in the final, but it wasn’t to be.

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“I wish them all the best. There are a lot of players there who I’ve been fortunate to have had personal contact with through the Lions and I want to wish them all the best.”

Gatland, meanwhile, still sounded somewhat sombre about Wales having to play again so soon after their deflating semi-final loss. “It’s the last game you want to be involved in, but it’s been on the calendar and everyone has known about it,” he said when asked about the relevance of Friday’s play-off. 

“Steve Tew made a joke to Martyn Phillips that both teams should have a boat race and we could settle it that way. When you put the disappointment behind you, you think about the chance to play the All Blacks and that gets you excited.

“Hopefully as coaches we’ve put the disappointment of the last 48 hours behind us and can start getting excited for the next 24. It’s the same for the group of players. We want to go out, perform well, and be positive about the way we play.

“The All Blacks will play the same way. Both teams are quite similar in terms of the synergy we are trying to achieve with the selection. Both of us will want to be positive in the way we want to play.”

For Gatland, Friday’s match marks the end of his twelve-year reign in Wales as he will soon return home to New Zealand and will be in charge of the Chiefs for the 2020 Super Rugby season. “What Wales have given me is an opportunity and I’ve absolutely loved my time. We’ve been lucky enough to have had a lot of success. There have been some lows and disappointments, but I’m very proud of what we’ve achieved,” he reflected. 

“We’ve punched massively above our weight and success as a coach isn’t always about winning – it’s about overachieving as a team and we’ve definitely done that. We’re a very small playing nation with a lot of history and the biggest memory I have is the smile we’ve put back on people’s faces to wear the red jersey again and to support the team.

“That makes a massive difference to the whole of Wales as they’re proud of the team and the players wear it with pride. They put in 100 per cent and as a coach that’s all you can ask.”

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Gatland finally explains what he really meant about England playing their final in the semi-final