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Rugby: Gatland signals thaw in animosity between Wales, England

(AP) -- So much for the England and Wales rugby teams being the worst of enemies.

    Three months ago, their players trained together in a behind-closed-doors session in Bristol to hone their set-piece skills before the autumn international series.

    Now, Wales coach Warren Gatland -- never shy to aim barbs at the English in the past -- is showering his rivals with compliments.

    Especially his counterpart Eddie Jones.

    "I'm just intrigued by watching him, the way he coaches his team," Gatland said on Tuesday, four days before England and Wales meet in a Six Nations match at Twickenham.

    "You can't argue with the ambition that Eddie's got and you can't argue with his record over the last couple of seasons."

    Gatland said he was "learning" from Jones and even backed the Australian to succeed him as coach of the British and Irish Lions for the 2021 tour of South Africa.

    "He'd do a great job as Lions coach," he said, adding mischievously: "Three-nil would be expected. It's probably the easiest of the three tours, isn't it?"

    On Gatland went, hailing England back Owen Farrell as "world class" and praising the English for their positivity, attacking threats, and set-piece.

    He even cast doubt over the supposed animosity between the nations.

    "Everyone talks about how much they dislike the English," Gatland said at Wales' training camp just outside Cardiff, "but I think the relationship between England and Wales has always been close. It's the rugby that brings the two nations together. That's what makes the relationship special.

    "There's been a lot of respect between the two nations over the years."

    Gatland's view on the English has maybe changed owing to his job as Lions coach for the last two tours, to Australia and New Zealand. Especially last year in New Zealand, he relied heavily on players from Jones' squad to help earn the Lions a creditable 1-1 draw in the three-match series.

    The inside knowledge Gatland will have gained from tour of New Zealand could be of great use on Saturday. For example, he highlighted the threat of prop Mako Vunipola at the breakdown, saying he was better as a jackal than England's back-rowers.

    "All of us will have a little bit deeper understandings about each other," Gatland said. "Not just the players, but the coaches as well. It's interesting to see that some of the coaches have used some of the things we learned. You've seen that in the first round of (Six Nations) games.

    "That's good for the game."

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