Gatland sympathizes with under-fire Jones before their crunch Rugby World Cup clash

He was hired only months out from the Rugby World Cup.

He'd already coached the team once before to great success.

His return to bail out a slumping team was hailed as a second coming.

But when the hoped-for results didn't come immediately, he was second-guessed and ridiculed.

Wales coach Warren Gatland knows exactly what Australia counterpart Eddie Jones is going through.

Two of rugby's greatest modern day coaches lead their teams against the other on Sunday in Lyon vying for the Rugby World Cup quarterfinals.

But one — Gatland — has muted his critics by winning his first two pool games, while the flak against Jones has thickened since the historic loss to Fiji last weekend left the Wallabies on the brink of their earliest Rugby World Cup exit.

Gatland and Jones like each other and used to have dinners often when they both traversed the Six Nations. “I find his company really good,” Gatland said. “He's engaging.”

Both are renowned for mind games and throwing verbal hand grenades to influence referees and win over popular opinion. Gatland understands the vitriol aimed at Jones — who is booed in France whenever his face comes across stadium video screens — but on Friday he sympathized for his mate and rival.

“He's been getting enough stick from everybody else so there's no need for me to put the boot into him,” Gatland said. "In a strange way we are probably going through the same things in terms of coming back and getting limited preparation time.

“I understand where he's at. It's a rebuilding process. He has made a number of changes and he's got a young team going forward. I understand, I've been in those situations in the past. There's no criticism that has been aimed at the players, it has all been aimed at Eddie.”

Jones apologized repeatedly at a news conference on Friday when he was grilled on his team's results this year; six losses in seven games. But he also stridently defended his methods and choices, saying he was mandated to turn Australia's fortunes and was determined to do so because he loved the work.

“I can get down on my knees and do the Japanese thing (hara-kiri) if you want me to,” he said. “I can't apologize anymore guys, I am really sorry we haven't had better results. But what I know is I am 100% doing the right thing for Australian rugby.”

Jones understood criticism came with his job but he loved the job too much to give it up.

"If I didn't want to put myself in these positions I could be teaching and I could have a nice life. Get up every morning, wife puts the packed lunch in the bag, put a shirt and tie on, know what I am going to do. I am going to teach six periods. Come home, wash the dog, clean the car, watch the Channel 7 news or ABC news and then get the packed lunch ready for the next day.

"I could have done that, mate, but I made a choice to coach and I love winning. And I love when you've got to try and create a team that everyone thinks they're going to lose, to put themselves in a position where they can win. I don't know whether it's a drug (but) that's the rush of coaching.

“And you (attract) more people when they smell blood. We've got 10 times more (media) than we normally have in the Australian press conference because people smell blood. That makes it even more exciting.”

His call to bring Australia's youngest Rugby World Cup squad in 20 years to France and leave behind veterans such as Michael Hooper and Quade Cooper has been blasted by media and former Wallabies. The coach shrugged it off.

"I've been coaching 30 years, I think I know what's coming.

"I've been very clear about the fact that I've been brought in to change Australian rugby. The results haven't been good but I'm bringing through a young team that can be the basis of the team going forward. I've made no bones about that. We've needed to move players on.

"I don't try to make myself out as a saint, but sometimes you've got to take some hard decisions to get some results down the track.

"I don't know of any team that you can come in and blow magic over. You've got to go through a process. You've got to find out what's wrong with the team and then you've got to try to address those problems.

“I sit here very comfortable feeling like I'm doing the job I should be doing. I know people are upset about it, I understand that, and I would be, too, if I was a fan because the results aren't good enough, but sometimes there's some pain before you get some success.”

The Wallabies went 5-9 last year. Jones left behind some veterans because they hadn't improved the team's record and he didn't want to wait until after the Rugby World Cup to start rebuilding for the 2027 tournament that Australia will host.

“Our results (now) are even worse but sometimes you've got to do that to go forward,” Jones said. "We need to create a new group of players that have high standards of training, high standards of behaviors, high standards of expectation. And that's what we are trying to do.”

___ AP Rugby World Cup: https://apnews.com/hub/rugby

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