WEYBRIDGE (AFP) - Wales boss Warren Gatland ruled himself out of the running to succeed beleaguered England coach Stuart Lancaster by jokingly telling reporters: "I don't think they can afford me!"
Although under contract until 2020, Lancaster's time in his job could soon be up after England became the first World Cup hosts to be knocked out of the tournament at the group stage.
Wales played a key role in England's demise with a thrilling 28-25 win over their old rivals at Twickenham. Australia then delivered the telling blow to England's hopes of getting out of the 'Pool of Death' with a comprehensive 33-13 win over Lancaster's team last weekend.
Since England lost to the Wallabies, there has been plenty of speculation about how Lancaster could be out of a job following the team's now 'meaningless' concluding Pool A match against Uruguay in Manchester on Saturday.
Gatland, whom England could have tried to appoint after the 2007 World Cup, the year before he oversaw his first match as Wales boss, has been one of several names linked with Lancaster's job in recent days along with Australia's Eddie Jones and South Africa's Jake White even though, as yet, there is no vacancy.
All joking aside, there was no doubting Gatland's sincerity when the New Zealander said he had called Lancaster to offer some moral support. He himself faced vitriolic abuse when, as coach of the British and Irish Lions, Gatland dropped Ireland great Brian O'Driscoll for the third and deciding Test of the 2013 tour of Australia - a match the combined side won to clinch a 2-1 series win.
Gatland, recalling how England might have drawn against Wales had home captain Chris Robshaw opted late on for an equalising penalty-kick rather than attempting to score a match-winning try that never came, said on Thursday some of the attacks on Lancaster had been excessive.
"There's a little bit of assassination by the media," Gatland told reporters at Wales' training base in Weybridge, near London, on Thursday.
"One kick, and had they taken those three points, I don't think all this would have been the same," he said.
"I rang Stuart in the week, he texted back and said 'I appreciate the support'. I just hope that him and his family are OK, that's more important than the
"We're all in this together, so we understand the pressures of professional sport and what we have to deal with," added Gatland.