YOKOHAMA, 25 Oct - It is difficult to say who won the semi-final war of words as England's Eddie Jones and New Zealand's Steve Hansen indulged in some verbal sparring, but by the sound of their texts to each other, they have thoroughly enjoyed providing an entertaining backdrop to Saturday’s potentially classic semi-final.
"We're just having a good laugh about it. I'm chuckling away and I get a text, 'How you going, Steve?' 'I'm going fine, thanks Eddie'. He's laughing and I'm laughing," smiled Hansen, as he talked fondly about his relationship with the Australian who, like him, has a reputation for possessing one of rugby's most fertile coaching minds.
The pair get on famously and if you read between all their scattergun lines in the build-up to this weekend's meeting in Yokohama, it is easy to see the deep respect they have for each other's ability.
Hansen calls Jones "a hell of good bloke" and admires his strategic brain and his absolute passion for the game. On his part, Jones describes his old rival as the "greatest coach" produced by rugby's most successful nation.
They have been perfecting their trade for the best part of a quarter-of-a-century, the feisty little hooker Jones taking over the reins of his Randwick club in Australia in 1994, while a couple of years later, Hansen took the same route with Canterbury, the province for whom he had played as a journeyman centre.
They first became opponents in the early years of Super 12 rugby when Hansen took the assistant’s job with the Crusaders while Jones was running the Brumbies but, somewhat surprisingly, they have locked horns just twice before as head coaches in test rugby.
Game 1 - Jones win (Sydney, 14 June, 2003)
Australia 30-10 Wales
This match came at a tough time for Hansen, who had taken his first international job with Wales in 2002 and was in the middle of a wretched losing streak that was putting his job under scrutiny. Jones, preparing for a home World Cup title defence with the Wallabies, unleashed the full force of dazzling rugby league recruit Wendell Sailor, who scored two magnificent tries among their five scores.
Jones, though, had praise for his opponent’s coaching, claiming Wales had given them a proper test to overcome. Later that year, Jones took the Wallabies to the World Cup final while Hansen began to restore some lustre to his reputation by leading a spirited Welsh side to the quarter-finals.
Game 2 - Hansen win (Twickenham, 10 Nov, 2018)
England 15 New Zealand 16
The pair's second contest should have happened in November 2013 when Hansen, by then having graduated to the All Blacks' top job after acting as Graham Henry’s assistant in their 2011 World Cup win, was taking his champions to Tokyo for their first test on Japanese soil.
Alas, Jones, who was beginning to build the Japan team that would go on to glory against South Africa at RWC 2015, suffered a stroke as he was preparing his squad a couple weeks before the game, and ended up in intensive care. The All Blacks won 54-6.
So it was that the pair had to wait another five years for their next battle, by which time Hansen had won his first world title and Jones had been employed to rebuild England in the aftermath of their pool-stage exit at RWC 2015.
It was a rain-drenched match, which gives us the best feel for how close this weekend's semi-final could be. England led 15-0 up through tries from Chris Ashton and Dylan Hartley, before being hauled back and losing 16-15.
Even now, England fans are in agonies about the potentially match-winning try scored by Sam Underhill, above, that was ruled out when a marginal offside call went against Courtney Lawes, after the England second-row charged down TJ Perenara's box kick.
After 15 long years, Hansen had levelled the scores in an epic test match. The question now is - who will win the 'decider'?