In a wide-ranging interview on Sky Sport NZ‘s The Breakdown, Gatland described his rivalry with Jones as “just a game” after the pair engaged in a war of words multiple times between Jones’ arrival in England in late 2015 and Gatland’s departure from Wales last year.
The most recent example of the duo’s press conference battles came during the 2019 World Cup in Japan, where Gatland suggested England might have peaked too soon after comprehensively defeating the All Blacks in the semi-final.
Jones batted the current Chiefs and British and Irish head coach’s claims away in the wake of Wales’ semi-final loss to eventual champions South Africa, saying: “Send my best wishes to Warren to make sure he enjoys the third and fourth place play-off.”
However, Gatland told The Breakdown that he and Jones enjoyed a good relationship off the field and would go out to dinner together ahead of a Six Nations campaign.
“I loved beating Eddie Jones,” the 56-year-old former All Blacks hooker said.
“We’ve been out for dinner a few times and the whole media thing is just a game.
“You’ll get asked a question and you might give a response to it. And they’ll use your answer which he’ll respond to.
“Before the Six Nations, we’ll go out to dinner and just have a laugh to what happens in the media.
“It’s just part of it. Before the Six Nations launch I’ll say ‘go in there Eddie and throw in a few grenades’ and he’ll say the same to me as well.
“But it’s always nice to get one up on him.”
Gatland also revealed that former Springboks boss Rassie Erasmus, who guided South Africa to their third World Cup title last year, was a coach he held in high regard.
After being awarded Pro12 coach of the season for his work with Munster in 2017, Erasmus took charge of a struggling South African side that had win rate of barely over 50 percent in the two years after the 2015 World Cup.
Within 24 months, the former Springboks flanker turned the inconsistent national side into world champions after they defeated Jones’ England 32-12 in last year’s World Cup final in Yokohama.
Now in a director of rugby role with South Africa Rugby, Erasmus and new Springboks coach Jacques Nienaber are set to go head-to-head with Gatland when the British and Irish Lions tour South Africa in 2021.
“Probably one of the guys I respect is Rassie Erasmus with South Africa,” Gatland said.
“I really like his philosophy with the game and his attitude, he’s got a huge amount of respect for the job he did at Munster and obviously he’s done a fantastic job since he went back to South Africa.
“I enjoy conversations and enjoy coaching against him as well.”
Gatland also floated the notion of settling the 2017 drawn test series with the All Blacks prior to embarking on next year’s tour of the Republic.
With the COVID-19 crisis putting rugby organisations around the world under intense financial pressure, Gatland suggested a clash between New Zealand and the Lions – potentially at Twickenham – could help bolster finances.
“I’ve spoken to Mark Robinson about a warm-up game for the Lions and he was potentially talking about the New Zealand Maoris,” he said.
“But is it something that the All Blacks go up there for? A decider before we go off to South Africa at the end of June next year.
“Potentially it’s an opportunity to make £4million or £5million from a game like that and put some money back into the coffers that we’re going to need.”
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