In Depth

‘Enjoy the third-fourth play-off’: Eddie Jones slaps down Warren Gatland

England head coach responds to Wales chief’s barb as he plots Springboks downfall in Rugby World Cup final

England vs. South Africa 

  • What: 2019 Rugby World Cup final 
  • When: Saturday 2 November  
  • Where: International Stadium, Yokohama, Japan 
  • Referee: Jérôme Garcès (France)
  • UK start time: 9am  
  • UK TV coverage: live on ITV 

As put-downs go, they don’t come much more stinging than the one dished out by England head coach Eddie Jones to his Wales counterpart Warren Gatland.

The Wales chief made the mistake in the immediate aftermath of his country’s Rugby World Cup semi-final defeat to South Africa of ungraciously playing down England’s scintillating performance against New Zealand

“We have seen teams play their final in the semi-final and don’t turn up for the final,” Gatland said. “We will see what England do.”

Bronze blues

Jones’s response to his long-time rival’s barb was one of his own, delivered in his customary deadpan style during a press conference on Monday. 

“Can you just send my best wishes to Warren,” Jones told reporters. “And make sure he enjoys the third-fourth place play-off.”

Wales face New Zealand on Friday in the bronze medal match, rugby’s most unwanted contest but one that the All Blacks will surely use to restore their battered pride against a Wales side depleted by injury.

Work to be done

England meanwhile are back on the training ground preparing for Saturday’s Rugby World Cup final against South Africa, and Jones dismissed the idea that his squad might rest on their laurels after their emphatic win against the All Blacks. 

“We played a great team on Saturday [New Zealand] but we don’t feel we’ve played as well as we can,” he told reporters. 

“The challenge for us is to keep improving. It is 100% possible. The players understand that they haven’t done anything yet. 

“As you go through the tournament, the margins get smaller. The improvements you can make are still significant. We’re looking to see how we can keep improving for this week’s game.”

Reasons to be cheerful

Jones also gave short shrift to the notion that being favourites is a burden on the England squad.

“I think it’s great,” he said of the expectation building in England. “You give the country something to cheer about. With Brexit at the moment they probably need something to cheer about. It’s a job of the team to make the country happy.

“The only thing I sense is excitement about what the team can achieve this week. We know the final comes with pressure but we are excited about handling that, and feel that’s an advantage.”

Injury update

After the withdrawal from the tournament on Sunday of injured scrum-half Willi Heinz, Jones had more positive news concerning wing Jonny May and centre Owen Farrell, both of whom suffered knocks against New Zealand. 

“We had a walk-through this morning and we had to tell Jonny to slow down a bit,” explained Jones. “He is probably in better condition than he was last week at this stage [when he was recovering from a hamstring issue]. Immeasurably better. 

“Owen is a bit sore but he will be fine. The great thing about our players is that physically they are in fantastic condition, so their ability to recover is extraordinary. They have taken to the onsens [hot springs] in droves. It is a great way to recovery.”

Frenchman for the final

Saturday’s World Cup final will be the first officiated by a Frenchman after Jérôme Garcès was handed the honour for the clash at the International Stadium in Yokohama. 

One of the world’s most experienced referees with 55 Tests, Garcès will be joined by compatriot Romain Poite and New Zealand’s Ben O’Keeffe as assistant referees and Kiwi Ben Skeen the TMO. 

“It is a dream as a referee, but this is a team sport, and as a team of four, we will be out there to do the best for the teams,” said Garcès.

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