The final game for Wales at the World Cup on Friday means the last goodbye for Warren Gatland. Robin Davey says the New Zealander has brought success and depth, where there was little beforehand, but suggests the departing Steve Hansen will ruin Gatland’s day, again.
The highly successful World Cup staged by Japan comes to a climax on Saturday when in a mouth-watering clash between southern and northern hemisphere rivals, England take on South Africa – but Friday marks a real milestone as well.
For after the bronze medal clash between Wales and New Zealand, iconic coaches Warren Gatland and Steve Hansen both step down after stellar times at the helm.
So, while the actual game is pretty meaningless and is one both sides would probably rather not be involved in, it will be an emotional occasion nonetheless.
And the selection pretty much reflects that with Hansen selecting Kieran Read one more time before the captain quits the All Blacks and Sonny Bill Williams, too, before he moves on. Gatland names Alun Wyn Jones yet again in what could well be his final World Cup game, though he will not be actually finishing yet with Wales.
But for the rival coaches it really will be their finale in charge of their respective countries. In the case of Gatland he will be returning to his native New Zealand after the tournament to take charge of home province the Chiefs and one day might even coach the All Blacks. Who knows?
It will be farewell to the Welsh team for Gatland, who, in his 12 years in charge boasts a formidable record – winning the Six Nations title four times with three Grand Slams and reaching two World Cup semi-finals.
On top of that, Gatland has developed real depth in the squad after virtually starting from scratch and there are now a number of players challenging for places in every position.
At times Gatland has been unpopular with his supposed Warrenball approach, a method he always denied. But he has managed to shed that image in recent times as he took Wales all the way to the number one ranked team in the world for a short spell.
Not bad for a small rugby nation with limited resources and a fairly small pool of players.
In the process, Gatland has won the hearts of the Welsh nation who have appreciated his efforts for his adopted country. In turn, he will leave with his head held high and with much affection as well as tributes ringing in his ears.
The most significant, perhaps, has come from Friday’s rival Hansen, who of course, coached Wales well before Gatland arrived on the scene.
Hansen – who has not always seen eye-to-eye with Gatland – said his rival has done a great job for Wales, while the man himself says his biggest memory will be putting a smile on Welsh faces and drawing satisfaction from a team which has punched above its weight and often over-achieved.
Hansen, meanwhile, leaves the All Blacks with a truly phenomenal record. He’s been in charge for 107 games with an incredible win record of 97, a success ratio of 86.92%.
He has won all 10 against France, for example, and all six against Wales, a record which will surely be extended on Friday.
While both teams show extensive changes from the semi-finals, Wales are crippled by injuries.
Gatland admits his back three choice of Hallam Amos, debut-making Owen Lane and record-chasing Josh Adams – who needs one more try to overhaul Shane Williams’ tally of six – was about the last man standing.
Liam Williams is now back in London having had an ankle operation which makes him a doubt for the start of the Six Nations, while Leigh Halfpenny has worryingly been ruled out because of yet another concussion. There must now surely be doubts about his rugby career.
Tomas Francis, Aaron Wainwright and George North were not considered because of injuries suffered against South Africa while Josh Navidi had earlier been sidelined.
And Taulupe Faletau and Gareth Anscombe never made it at all after being injured before the World Cup, Faletau much earlier and Anscombe virtually on the eve of departure.
So, the odds must be against Wales ending their abysmal record against the All Blacks, going all the way back to 1953 since they last beat them.
But as much as anything Friday will be about two coaches – Gatland and Hansen.
As Hansen said this week, rugby is not so much about the winning as the friendships you make along the way. He never spoke a truer word.