It will be the end of an era in Chofu on Friday night as Warren Gatland’s 12 years in charge of Wales come to a close.
In some ways it is fitting that he takes on New Zealand in his final game, the third-place play-off at the World Cup.
The All Blacks are the only side the Kiwi coach has not beaten with Wales, although he has done so while working with the British & Irish Lions.
It would be the perfect way to sign off his time with Wales, but they face an almighty challenge against an All Black side desperate to make up for a semi-final loss to England.
Gatland has been forced to deal with a host of injuries, particularly in the backs where he had just ten players to select from.
He has made nine changes in all from the team that went down 19-16 to South Africa, including a new half-back pairing of Tomos Williams and Rhys Patchell. Elsewhere in the backs Owen Lane makes his first World Cup appearance, with Hallam Amos also coming in at full-back.
Alun Wyn Jones captains the team once more with four changes in the pack including a start for James Davies in the back row.
For their part, New Zealand have made seven changes as a number of players prepare to play their final game for the All Blacks.
As well as Steve Hansen, who is off to Japan after 16 years in the All Black set-up, skipper Kieran Read is also set to bow out of the international game.
Ben Smith and Sonny Bill Williams both come into the starting line-up for potentially their farewell games, while Sam Cane returns in the back row.
Wales v New Zealand, Friday November 1, Chofu, Kick-off 9AM (GMT)
What they said
Wales coach Warren Gatland:
“They are disappointed not to be in the final but have the chance to create a little bit of history against the All Blacks. It has been a long time, 66 years, not to beat a side. We have had success against every other nation. The All Blacks have been that elusive team we have not been able to conquer.
“There is a lot at stake, even though both teams are disappointed they are not involved in the big game. There is definitely something at stake – a lot of pride – and a victory for us would be pretty special.
“The All Blacks have made seven changes and it’s definitely reflective of players in the squad who haven’t been involved in the 23 and a number of players who are probably wearing the All Blacks jersey for the last time. So there will definitely be motivation for them to go out there and perform and play one last time in that black jersey.
New Zealand coach Steve Hansen on skipper Kieran Read:
“He’s a special player. I’ve been lucky enough to work with him for a long, long time. We identified early that he’d be the next leader after Richie (McCaw). He played a lot of rugby in a position that’s tough; he’s a charismatic leader, the boys and the management all love him, have a huge amount of respect for him.
“People won’t understand just how hard it was for him to come back from his back injury. To come back into the form he’s shown speaks volumes for him. He was really driven to do well and have the team do well and I think you can see the hurt when he’s spoken since (the semi-final defeat).
“But the same guy’s got up and led the team really well this week, so that’s a mark of his character.”
Key battle – Owen Watkin v Sonny Bill Williams
Owen Watkin was promoted to Wales’ starting lineup at the last minute before the quarter-final against France, starting at 13, while he spent the second half of the semi-final against South Africa on the wing. This Friday he gets his chance at inside centre alongside Jonathan Davies. Up against him? The small matter of Sonny Bill Williams in possibly his final game as an All Black. The cross-code superstar could not quite turn the tide in the semi-final loss to England after coming off the bench but will provide a stiff challenge for Watkin in Chofu.
- Jonathan Davies is the only player who started for Wales in the Rugby World Cup 2011 Bronze Final who starts in the Rugby World Cup 2019 Bronze Final.
- This will be Wales’s last match under head coach Warren Gatland. Since his tenure began in December 2007, Wales have won the Guinness Six Nations Championship on four occasions, securing the Grand Slam in 2008, 2012 and 2019.
- On six tries, Josh Adams is the 2019 World Cup’s top try-scorer. His six tries are equal to Wales record at a single World Cup. At the 2007 World Cup, Shane Williams also scored six tries.
- Warren Gatland taking on his native country will mark the 15th time a head coach will have taken in his native country in a World Cup match. Of the previous 14 occasions (13 different head coaches), only one was successful. Eddie Jones led England to victory over his native Australia in this year’s quarter-finals.
- Kieran Read captains the All Blacks for the 52nd time and overtakes 1992-1997 All Blacks hooker Sean Fitzpatrick in second place. Richie McCaw is the record holder, captaining New Zealand on 110 occasions.
Wales: 15 Hallam Amos, 14 Owen Lane, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Owen Watkin, 11 Josh Adams, 10 Rhys Patchell, 9 Tomos Williams; 1 Nicky Smith, 2 Ken Owens, 3 Dillon Lewis, 4 Adam Beard, 5 Alun Wyn Jones (c), 6 Justin Tipuric, 7 James Davies, 8 Ross Moriarty.
Replacements: 16 Elliot Dee, 17 Rhys Carre, 18 Wyn Jones, 19 Jake Ball, 20 Aaron Shingler, 21 Gareth Davies, 22 Dan Biggar, 23 Hadleigh Parkes.
New Zealand: 15 Beauden Barrett, 14 Ben Smith, 13 Ryan Crotty, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Aaron Smith; 1 Joe Moody, 2 Dane Coles, 3 Nepo Laulala, 4 Brodie Retallick, 5 Scott Barrett, 6 Shannon Frizell, 7 Sam Cane, 8 Kieran Read (c)
Replacements: 16 Liam Coltman, 17 Atu Moli, 18 Angus Ta’avao, 19 Patrick Tuipulotu, 20 Matt Todd, 21 Brad Weber, 22 Anton Lienert-Brown, 23 Jordie Barrett.