TOKYO, 30 Oct - Outgoing Wales coach Warren Gatland, above, hopes England win the World Cup on Saturday - and insists he was not being critical when he suggested Eddie Jones's team may have peaked too soon.
The New Zealander provoked a response from Jones following his comments after England's epic semi-final win over New Zealand when he said: "We have seen in previous World Cups that teams sometimes play their final in semi-finals and don’t always turn up for a final, so it will be interesting to see how England are next week."
Jones bit back by saying he hoped Gatland "enjoys the third-fourth place play-off".
But Gatland has made it clear his remarks were not designed to be a slight on the England team.
"I was reflecting on the experiences I’ve seen in the past," said Gatland, who has made nine changes for his final match against New Zealand at Tokyo Stadium on Friday.
"I was thinking about 2011 and the All Blacks. They had a big game against Australia in the semi-final and they maybe looked at that as their final.
"They played France in the final and it was probably a game they thought they could potentially win comfortably. It ended up being a very tight game.
"I thought England were excellent against the All Blacks – it was the best I’ve seen England play in the last 10 years. I thought they were outstanding.
"I think it will be a great final with two physical teams and I hope a northern hemisphere team can win the World Cup. It would have been great if two of us could have been in the final, but it wasn’t to be.
"There are a lot of players there who I’ve been fortunate to have had personal contact with through the (British and Irish) Lions and I want to wish them all the best."
Gatland had no problems with England's response to the haka where they formed a V shape, joking: "I was just thankful England didn’t do some Morris dancing."
He added: "We might do a 'W' for Wales. I think the way teams want to respond to the haka is completely up to them.
"The haka is about standing up and accepting the challenge because the haka is challenging lots of things about you – how tough you are, how physical you are. It’s important you don’t take a backward step and you respond respectfully. I thought England did that."
Gatland has been forced into numerous changes for the bronze final against the All Blacks, having lost several players to injury.
Winger George North and flanker Aaron Wainwright sustained hamstring injuries in the 19-16 semi-final defeat to the Springboks, while prop Tomas Francis (shoulder) and full-back Leigh Halfpenny (concussion) are also out.
Full-back Liam Williams will be sidelined for about three months after flying back to England for surgery on the ankle he injured in training last week. Among the changes will be a World Cup debut for winger Owen Lane, who flew to Japan during the week as a replacement.
If Gatland can end his 12-year reign with his first victory over his native country it will halt Wales's 66-year losing streak against the All Blacks.
He departs having led Wales to three Six Nations Grand Slams, two World Cup semi-finals and one quarter-final and, briefly this summer, to No.1 in the world rankings.
"There is definitely something at stake, a lot at pride, and a victory against them would be pretty special. They are the only team I haven't beaten with Wales," he said.
"It has been some experience with Wales. The biggest memory I have is the smile we’ve put back on people’s faces to wear the red jersey again and to support the team. That makes a massive difference to the whole of Wales as they’re proud of the team and the players wear it with pride.
"They put in 100 per cent and as a coach that’s all you can ask."