Wales will secure the Six Nations title and a Grand Slam if they beat Ireland in Cardiff on Saturday.
England still have hopes of silverware, but they need to beat Scotland at Twickenham, while also requiring an Ireland victory over Wales.
Jones said on Thursday that Wales were “starting to look a bit tired” after making “more tackles than anyone else in the tournament,” and were facing an Ireland side “that seems to be peaking at the right time.”
When the Australian’s comments were put to him, Wales head coach Gatland corrected the Autralian, pointing out that it is actually England who have made most tackles in the tournament – 793 compared to Wales’ 660.
📹 Warren Gatland: 'We want to embrace this weekend....We don't want to let the opportunity pass us by." pic.twitter.com/sNPG0RltYf— Welsh Rugby Union 🏉 (@WelshRugbyUnion) 14 March 2019
Gatland, laughing, said: “What the hell is Eddie Jones doing talking about our game?
“If it was me, I would be concentrating on playing Scotland. I’ve got no comment on Eddie Jones talking about us.
“If you look at the stats, England have made a hell of a lot more tackles than us in this tournament. My advice to Eddie is to concentrate on the Scotland match.”
Wales are bidding for a third Grand Slam under Gatland – it would be a record for any Five or Six Nations coach if his players accomplish it – and also leave them in great shape six months before their World Cup challenge in Japan.
“I pride myself on the record I’ve had in big matches when it has really mattered,” added Gatland, ahead of his final Six Nations game as Wales head coach before he steps down later this year.
“I even get more of a buzz when people write us off, which has happened on a number of occasions before.
“It’s about building belief and confidence in the players. We’ve worked in the (Six Nations) down weeks and we’ve trained as hard as any team I have seen.
“We’ve put that training in the bank, and there is no way anyone is training as hard as us in this Six Nations.
“If you want something bad enough and you really believe it can happen, then it often does.”
Gatland, meanwhile, readily acknowledges Ireland’s threat, particularly the one presented by their British & Irish Lions half-backs Johnny Sexton and Conor Murray.
“It will be the same approach we had with England,” he said. “We put Ben Youngs and Owen Farrell under pressure, and Conor and Johnny are key.
“When we’ve had success against Ireland in the past, we’ve tried to put pressure on Conor and Johnny and shut their space down.
“There is no doubt that when Johnny gets front-foot ball he controls the game exceptionally well. We saw against England that when we did put pressure on Owen, we got some success from that.
“It’s very much part of the game. You look at opposition 10s and where their strengths are, and you try to negate some of those strengths.
“Johnny is world player of the year and absolutely world-class.
“We’ve got to put him under pressure, but in saying that Ireland have world-class players all over the place and they can keep the ball for long phases.”
England head coach Eddie Jones has attempted to undermine Wales’ Grand Slam bid by declaring they must face Ireland while suffering from fatigue.
Warren Gatland’s men will be crowned Six Nations champions if they prevail at the Principality Stadium in the second of Saturday’s three fixtures.
But England are waiting to pounce knowing that if Wales falter, then victory over Scotland in the finale to the tournament at Twickenham will propel them to the title.
Jones has ramped up the pressure by insisting resurgent Ireland are ready to capitalise on Welsh weariness.
“I’m just saying what I see and I see a team that’s looking tired. It’s tough. You can see they’re getting tired,” Jones said.
“They have made more tackles than anyone else in the tournament and they are playing against an Ireland side that seems to be peaking at the right time.
“Ireland have had a few players off the pace, which happens. Johnny Sexton and Conor Murray have been off the pace a little bit, but now they look like they’ve got their mojo back.
“They’re working well together. It was quite evident in the last game that their relationship was stronger than it has been for a while.
“You’ve got Garry Ringrose playing well, Peter O’Mahony coming back. James Ryan went through a little bit of… he was the star and everyone targeted him.
“Now he’s finding his feet again. They’re in a good spot. And they’ve got a lot to prove in the last game.”
In Wales, it has been tradition to not have one head coach of the national rugby team.
There’s three million.
Such is the goldfish bowl of Welsh rugby, the pressure on the man in charge at the top level is palpable. And very few have been able to handle it.
Step forward Warren Gatland.
The bullish Kiwi jumped into affairs in Cardiff at one of the country’s lowest ebbs. Unceremoniously dumped out of the 2007 World Cup at the group stage, hot on the back of rumours of player power and mutinies within the camp – it was a veritable soap opera, and one fans had seen all too often.
Fast forward 12 years and the state of the game in Wales – at international level at least – has rarely been healthier. The same can’t be said for the club game, but that’s a conversation for another day.
In a little more than a decade Gatland has delivered a couple of Grand Slams, a World Cup semi and quarter-final – and a little bit of hope for the watching legions.
It has not always been plain sailing, they have been dips in form, and question marks over Gatland’s style of play, but what he leaves is unrecognisable to what he inherited.
The evolution has been spectacular.
From the instant success of a Grand Slam in 2008, built on ensuring his side was fitter than the opposition, but with the flair of
Gavin Henson, Stephen Jones and link play of Martyn Williams.
This morphed into the now fabled Gatland-ball. The tactic that pounded the opposition into submission, but nearly saw the Welsh crowds lose faith in their adopted son.
Accusation of a lack of Plan B, and assumptions the style of play was easy to combat with ever improving defences certainly had the armchair coaches questioning if Gatland would survive.
A shift to a more expansive game a couple of years ago changed that.
Even if they are not winning, a Welsh crowd wants to be entertained, and while it may have been a shift from his more pragmatic roots, Gatland again showed his ability to adapt.
In this year’s Six Nations we have seen things evolve further. A new addition to Wales’ play has been an air of self-assurance, a confidence to be patient in possession and
trust the process. This has yielded two tries from thirty-plus phases – something we haven’t really seen from Wales in the past.
This smacks of a side preparing for the World Cup, one that is willing to grind and grind points, and wins. They have been nowhere near their scintillating best in this year’s Six Nations, but have done what they needed to. Win. Nobody remembers who played nice rugby, they remember who won World Cups. If you can do both, great – but if winning ugly is needed then so be it, and that is in Gatland’s mind.
This weekend will see Gatland’s final competitive match in Cardiff, and there would be no better way than to bookend his Wales days with another Grand Slam. Whether it happens, in the grand scheme of things will neither set, or tarnish, his legacy. That has been built up over more than a decade – and it’s on that will see him fondly remembered as the greatest coach
Wales have had – his three million contemporaries will vouch for that.