Eddie Jones has sparked the war of words ahead of England’s Six Nations Grand Slam eliminator against Wales after bringing up Warren Gatland’s past comments that the two rival nations are “poles apart”.
The England head coach responded to Wales boss Gatland’s claim which was made last summer, when Jones saw his side lose the first and second Tests in South Africa as part of a five-match losing run.
But after watching England record a dominant 44-8 victory over a woeful France side that stretches their record to six wins in their last seven matches - and claim a maximum 10 points from 10 with a second straight bonus-point win to lead the Six Nations table - Jones doused the ever-burning fire between England and Wales with more than enough fuel to keep the flames alive until they meet on 23 February.
“All I know is that we are playing against the greatest Welsh side ever. So that is enough for me,” taunted Jones. “I hear all the commentary and that is what everyone is saying. So how can I argue with the commentary?
“Any time England play Wales it is a special match. Because of the history of the two countries and the history of rugby between the two countries - it's special. You have a Welsh team that is doing so well and if I remember the comments [last summer], we weren't doing so well and the gap between us was massive. So let’s see how big the gap is next Saturday.”
Jones’ outburst appeared to be in direct reference to Gatland’s past shot at England. The Kiwi said last June: "The difference between the teams right now in terms of where we are and where they are is poles apart.”
Wales are riding their own wave of momentum after beating Italy 26-15 on Saturday to secure their record-equalling 11th consecutive victory, and speaking after the win in Rome - which came from a heavily-changed side showing 10 changes to the one that beat France on the opening weekend - Gatland stressed that the chance to break the record by beating England will provide all the momentum that his side needs to take a third step towards the Six Nations title.
“A lot of people will write us off, which is a good position to be in,” Gatland said. “Hopefully we'll go under the radar. You're not always brilliant and we weren't. We will be a lot better against England.
"We didn't speak about the record at all this week but we will probably talk about it before England. If this group of players achieve that, it'll be something nobody can take away from them.
"We've got a chance, we're at home, the stadium will be full, it'll be some atmosphere at the Principality Stadium. So there will definitely be no lack of motivation in trying to beat England and break that record."
But Jones holds no fears in heading to Cardiff, despite his reign as Australia coach ending their back in 2005 after defeat by Wales. England faced the usual pre-match build-up that drew on the harrowing memories of the 30-3 defeat in 2013, which for many of the current squad cost them both the Six Nations title and Grand Slam.
That intimidation factor was shattered though when Elliot Daly scored a match-winning try two years ago on England’s path to a second successive Six Nations title, and the Australian believes that the dominant display over France, and in particular the second half in which Les Bleus were kept scoreless, stands them in good stead to take on the Welsh.
“I have never found it to be a fortress,” Jones said. “You go there and it is a tough game, they are a good side, loud crowd - but it has never been a fortress to me.
“We were really happy with our second half with our discipline, our focus and our ability to be relentless. If you want to be one of the best teams in the world then you have to be relentless. You can't get seduced by the scoreboard or the opposition.
“The only message we can send is Saturday week. We will have a message on Saturday week, but we will leave it until then.”