Preview: New Zealand v Wales
WORLD CUP THIRD-PLACE PLAY-OFF: Highly respected Kiwi coaches Steve Hansen and Warren Gatland will bow out of the international game after Friday.
This is a game the latter joked could have been settled by a drinking game.
The semifinals saw Hansen’s All Blacks lose 7-19 to England, while Gatland’s Wales went down 16-19 to South Africa – plunging them into the dreaded bronze medal match.
“I think Steve Tew [New Zealand Rugby Union Chief Executive] made a joke to Martyn Phillips [Welsh Rugby Union Chief Executive] that both teams should have a boat race and we could settle it that way,” Gatland joked in reference to a speed-drinking game.
“I can see the relevance in that.”
Both sides have rung the changes for Friday’s encounter, Hansen aiming a cheeky dig at Wales when he said the play-off would be like a Final for the Six Nations champions.
“This is the first time I’ve had to do this,” said Hansen, with the All Blacks having won 31 of their 34 meetings with Wales, last losing in 1953.
“A lot of people might be saying there’s not a lot on it and they could throw the ball around.
“I think there is a lot on it. For them, it would be like winning the World Cup if they win this one, maybe.”
Hansen will bow out as New Zealand coach after 107 matches in charge, with only 10 defeats to date.
His successes include the 2015 World Cup, six Rugby Championships and a perfect eight from eight in the Bledisloe Cup, the annual series against Australia.
‘Leave a legacy’
“I don’t want to go into what I’m going to miss,” said Hansen, who was the coach of Wales the last time the teams faced each other at the World Cup, in 2003.
Gatland said that what Hansen had achieved with New Zealand was “absolutely outstanding”.
“There is no doubt he’ll leave a legacy behind in terms of what he’s achieved as an All Black coach,” he said.
“Very much like me, he started in Wales and learned a lot and I’ve learned a lot, too, from my time as an international coach. There is no doubt Steve has left a massive impression on New Zealand rugby and he’ll be a big loss.”
Gatland, who made nine changes to his side, took over Wales in late 2007, going on to win four Six Nations Championships and also reaching the semifinals of the 2011 World Cup.
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.
“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,” he said, referring to Wales’ last win against New Zealand, in Cardiff in 1953.
“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.”
Players to watch
For New Zealand: It is a game of farewells for the All Blacks. Ben Smith gets a final run on the right wing, with Rieko Ioane on the left, while Sonny Bill Williams and Ryan Crotty make up a formidable centre combo. Dane Coles replaces Codie Taylor at hooker, Sam Cane returns at openside flank and Shannon Frizell comes in at blindside for Scott Barrett, who resumes his more accustomed role in the second row. No.8 Kieran Read is set to captain the All Blacks for the 52nd and last time, overtaking former hooker Sean Fitzpatrick in second place on the all-time list behind Richie McCaw.
For Wales: In what will be his final match in charge after 12 years as head coach of the Welsh, Warren 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 halfback 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 fullback.
Head to head
Rather than focus on two much-changed teams, we feel the coaches deserve their moment in the spotlight – Warren Gatland (Wales) and Steve Hansen (New Zealand) both in their last game in charge after two very successful terms, Hansen more so than Gatland.
Prediction: Does the result really matter? Well, if we must, we feel New Zealand should win comfortably – by 15 points or more.
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, 8 Kieran Read (captain), 7 Sam Cane, 6 Shannon Frizell, 5 Scott Barrett, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Joe Moody.
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.
Wales: 15 Hallam Amos, 14 Owen Lane, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Owen Watkin, 11 Josh Adams. 10 Rhys Patchell, 9 Tomos Williams, 8 Ross Moriarty, 7 James Davies, 6 Justin Tipuric, 5 Alun Wyn Jones (captain), 4 Adam Beard, 3 Dillon Lewis, 2 Ken Owens, 1 Nicky Smith.
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.
Date: Friday, November 1
Venue: Tokyo Stadium, Tokyo
Kick-off: 18.00 (09.00 GMT; 09.00 UK & Ireland time; 22.00 NZ time)
Expected weather: Mostly sunny and beautiful. High of 22°C and a low of 13° C
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant referees: Jaco Peyper (South Africa), Pascal Gaüzère (France)
TMO: Marius Jonker (South Africa)