Jones hails Gatland for Welsh 'resurrection'
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Bagshot (United Kingdom) (AFP)
England coach Eddie Jones has paid tribute to Warren Gatland for the way his longtime rival has "resurrected" Welsh rugby.
Saturday's final round of the Six Nations sees Wales looking to complete their third Grand Slam of the Gatland era with victory over Ireland in Cardiff in what will be the New Zealander's final Championship match in charge before he stands down following this year's World Cup in Japan.
But a defeat allied to an England win over Scotland later Saturday would see Jones' side snatch the title.
Gatland took charge of Wales after a shock defeat by Fiji saw them make a first-round exit from the 2007 World Cup.
Jones, a coaching consultant to eventual champions South Africa, had been expecting to face Wales in the quarter-finals.
"He (Gatland) came on the back of a difficult period, I can remember having an interest in that 2007 game when they (Wales) played Fiji and got beaten and that was probably one of the lowest points for Welsh rugby and he came in shortly after that," Jones said on Thursday.
"Since then he's resurrected Welsh rugby and it's so important for world rugby to have a strong Welsh team.
"They're one of the traditional teams in world rugby. If anyone doesn't know about world rugby, they know the Welsh are a strong rugby country with New Zealand and I think he's brought a lot of pride, passion and enthusiasm back to the game, had good success and carried himself well."
Former Ireland boss Gatland launched his Wales career in 2008 with a stunning 26-19 win away to England that saw the side come from 19-6 down early in the second half to record their first win at Twickenham in 30 years.
It was the start of Gatland's first Grand Slam as Wales coach, a feat the Welsh repeated in 2012.
Wales ended England's hopes of a 2019 Six Nations clean sweep with a hard-fought 21-13 win in Cardiff last month.
Much of Wales' success this season has been based on a colossal defensive effort and Jones, for all the praise he had heaped on Gatland, could not resist a pre-match dig by suggesting the "tiring" Welsh might struggle against reigning champions Ireland.
"I'm just saying what I see mate. I see a team that's looking tired, I see an Ireland team that's peaking, but they're a good team Wales," said Jones.
"They're well coached and I'm sure they'll handle it and if they do, then it doesn't matter for us as we have to play (Scotland).
"It's tough. You can see, they (Wales) are getting tired."
But when asked if he had any figures to back up that assertion, the 59-year-old Jones replied: "No figures for it, just fading eyesight."
A laughing Gatland responded by saying: "What the hell is Eddie Jones doing talking about our game?
"If it was me, I'd be concentrating on playing Scotland. I've got no comment on Eddie Jones talking about us.
"If you look at the stats, England have made a hell of a lot more tackles than us (Wales) in this tournament."
? 2019 AFP