Gatland backs England to win Rugby World Cup
Warren Gatland has wished England well for the World Cup final against South Africa and also hailed their stunning semi-final defeat of New Zealand.
England head coach Eddie Jones taunted Gatland after the Wales boss appeared to question whether England had played their final a game early by overwhelming the All Blacks.
Gatland was speaking after his team had been beaten 19-16 by South Africa, which sent them into Friday’s bronze medal match against New Zealand.
And Jones later responded by saying: “Well, guys, can you just send my best wishes to Warren to make sure he enjoys the third and fourth place play-off.”
But speaking on Wednesday, Gatland was full of praise for Jones’s men.
“I was reflecting on the experiences I’ve seen in the past,” Gatland said. “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.
“I thought England were excellent against the All Blacks – it was the best I’ve seen England play in the last 10 years. I thought they were outstanding.
“I think it will be a great final with two physical teams, and I hope a northern hemisphere team can win the World Cup.
“There are a lot of players there who I’ve been fortunate to have had personal contact with through the (British and Irish) Lions, and I want to wish them all the best.”
Gatland, meanwhile, described England’s response to the Haka before that game as “completely respectful.”
England have been fined for advancing beyond the half-way line when confronting the Haka.
Captain Owen Farrell and his team-mates formed a V shape to face the Maori war dance, but several players at the tips of the formation strayed beyond the boundaries established under World Rugby regulations.
The fine, which the PA news agency understands is £2,000, will be donated to the global governing body’s official charity.
New Zealander Gatland added: “We haven’t even spoken about the Haka. We might do a ‘W’ for Wales. It hasn’t really crossed my mind.
“I think the way teams want to respond to the Haka is completely up to them. For them (England) to do something like that is completely respectful as far as I’m concerned.
“They didn’t turn their backs or anything like that. They stood there and received the Haka. I was just thankful England didn’t do some Morris dancing!
“I thought that was a perfect response. You can respond in your own way, and they were accepting the challenge. That’s what England did.
“The Haka is about standing up and accepting the challenge because the Haka is challenging lots of things about you – how tough you are, how physical you are.
“It’s important you don’t take a backward step and you respond respectfully. I thought England did that.”
Wales, meanwhile, have lost four players through injury for their game against New Zealand in Tokyo.
Full-back Leigh Halfpenny (concussion), wing George North (hamstring), prop Tomas Francis (shoulder) and flanker Aaron Wainwright (hamstring) all miss out after starting the semi-final loss to South Africa.
Gatland has made nine changes for his final match in charge before stepping down, including starts for Cardiff Blues wing Owen Lane, Ospreys prop Nicky Smith and Scarlets flanker James Davies.
Halfpenny had concussion issues last season, being sidelined for several weeks and missing a number of games for Wales and Scarlets.
The Welsh Rugby Union, meanwhile, said that Francis’ shoulder injury will require ongoing assessment, while Gatland confirmed that ankle injury victim Liam Williams, who was hurt in training last week, had undergone surgery in the United Kingdom.
Gatland’s reign ends after the All Blacks game, concluding a 12-year tenure highlighted by Wales winning four Six Nations titles, three Grand Slams and reaching two World Cup semi-finals.