Warren Gatland has made nine changes to the Wales team to play New Zealand in the World Cup third-place play-off match on Friday – aiming for “something special” with his first-ever win over the All Blacks.
“We’re disappointed not to be involved in the big game,” admitted Gatland, who goes out this weekend having led Wales to titles in the Six Nations on four occasions, securing the Grand Slam in 2008, 2012 and 2019.
“It’s the last game you want to be involved in. But a victory for us would be incredibly important.
“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 at pride and a victory for us would be pretty special.
“I think what Wales have given me is an opportunity and I’ve absolutely loved my time. We’ve been lucky enough to have had a lot of success.
“There have been some lows and disappointments, but I’m very proud of what we’ve achieved. We’ve punched massively above our weight and success as a coach isn’t always about winning – I think it’s about overachieving as a team and I feel we’ve definitely done that.
“We’re a very small playing nation with a lot of history and the biggest memory I have is the smile we’ve put back on people’s faces to wear the red jersey again and to support the team.
“That makes a massive difference to the whole of Wales as they’re proud of the team and the players wear it with pride. They put in 100% and as a coach that’s all you can ask.”
In what will be his final match in charge after 12 years Gatland brings in props Nicky Smith and Dillon Lewis to the front row either side of Ken Owens.
Adam Beard partners captain Alun Wyn Jones in the second-row, while James Davies comes into the back-row alongside Justin Tipuric and Ross Moriarty.
Tomos Williams and Rhys Patchell form a new half-back partnership for Wales whilst Owen Watkin features alongside Jonathan Davies in midfield.
Josh Adams, who currently leads the try scoring charts at the World Cup with six, remains in the back three alongside Owen Lane who comes in on the wing and Hallam Amos at full-back.
In 150 Test matches since Gatland’s appointment as head coach, Wales have won 85, lost 63 and drawn twice.
But Gatland has lost all 11 previous Test encounters with his native New Zealand.
“It’s an opportunity for us to go out there and give our best and reflect afterwards,” said the former Waikato hooker.
“It would be easy to be down on ourselves and throw in the towel. But now we have an opportunity to go out there and do something special.”
Elliot Dee, Rhys Carre and Wyn Jones provide the front-row cover on the bench with Jake Ball and Aaron Shingler completing the forward contingent.
Gareth Davies, Dan Biggar and Hadleigh Parkes provide the backline cover.
Wales lost 19-16 in the semi-final to South Africa, who play England, 19-7 victors over the All Blacks in their last-four clash, in Saturday’s final.
Gatland’s selection hand was somewhat forced with a number of injuries in the squad.
Prop Tomas Francis sustained a shoulder injury against the Springboks, while winger George North (hamstring), flanker Aaron Wainwright (hamstring) and Leigh Halfpenny (concussion) are all out while Liam Williams has undergone surgery on an ankle injury.
Kieran Read will lead New Zealand for the last time on Friday and there will be a chance for a group of other distinguished All Blacks to bow out on a high in what is bound to be an emotional occasion at Tokyo Stadium.
On the night Steve Hansen coaches the team for one final time, he has selected his great captain Read for a 127th cap as he heads a powerful-looking All Blacks team, which has seven changes from the starting XV that lost to England.
Ben Smith and Ryan Crotty have both been given starts in what will be their last games for their country.
Sonny Bill Williams earns his second start in what is also widely expected to be the centre’s farewell to international rugby union.
Flanker Matt Todd, back after a shoulder injury, has been given a place on the bench as he also prepares for his swansong in black.
The most striking changes come in the backline with the recall of the prolific Rieko Ioane and Smith on the wings, instead of the more youthful combination of Sevu Reece and George Bridge.
The 33-year-old Smith has played most of his international career at full-back but has been selected on the wing for his 84th and last cap, with Beauden Barrett retained at full-back and Richie Mo’unga again at fly-half as Hansen sticks with his dual playmakers.
An injury to Ardie Savea in the back-row has given an opportunity to Shannon Frizell to earn the blindside start.
- Nicky Smith
- Ken Owens
- Dillon Lewis
- Adam Beard
- Alun Wyn Jones (capt.)
- Justin Tipuric
- James Davies
- Ross Moriarty
- Tomos Williams
- Rhys Patchell
- Josh Adams
- Owen Watkin
- Jonathan Davies
- Owen Lane
- Hallam Amos
- Elliot Dee
- Rhys Carre
- Wyn Jones
- Jake Ball
- Aaron Shingler
- Gareth Davies
- Dan Biggar
- Hadleigh Parkes
- Joe Moody
- Dane Coles
- Nepo Laulala
- Brodie Retallick
- Scott Barrett
- Shannon Frizell
- Sam Cane
- Kieran Read (capt.)
- Aaron Smith
- Richie Mo’unga
- Rieko Ioane
- Sonny Bill Williams
- Ryan Crotty
- Ben Smith
- Beauden Barrett
- Liam Coltman
- Atu Moli
- Angus Ta’avao
- Patrick Tuipulotu
- Matt Todd
- Brad Weber
- Anton Lienert-Brown
- Jordie Barrett