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Rugby World Cup play-off: Warren Gatland rings the changes for his final match with Wales

Friday's third-place match will bring down the curtain on the Kiwi's 12 years in charge

Wales lock and captain Alun Wyn Jones will start Friday's match against New Zealand while fly-half Dan Biggar drops to the bench. AFP
Wales lock and captain Alun Wyn Jones will start Friday's match against New Zealand while fly-half Dan Biggar drops to the bench. AFP

Wales coach Warren Gatland has made nine changes to his side to face New Zealand in the Rugby World Cup third-place play-off this Friday.

The match will be Gatland's final game in charge after 12 years at the helm. Under the New Zealander, Wales have won three Grand Slams, three Six Nations and three Triple Crowns.

Gatland's hand was forced with four players unavailable through injury, while five other fringe players are handed a run out from the start against the All Blacks.

Tomos Williams and Rhys Patchell form a new halfback partnership as Gareth Davies and Dan Biggar move to the bench, while Owen Watkin features alongside Jonathan Davies in midfield.

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Nicky Smith and Dillon Lewis come into the starting side in the front row to join Ken Owens, while Adam Beard returns to partner captain Alun Wyn Jones in the second row.

Winger Josh Adams, the tournament's leading try scorer with six, remains in the back three alongside Owen Lane, who comes in on the wing for his tournament debut after joining the squad last week to replace the injured Josh Navidi.

Tomas Francis, George North and Aaron Wainwright were unavailable through injury, as was Leigh Halfpenny due to concussion following last week's 19-16 semi-final defeat to South Africa.

Gatland said the squad had done their best to put the semi-final disappointment behind them and were motivated to give their all against the All Blacks.

"Even though we’d like to not be playing the bronze medal game, it's an opportunity for us to go out there, give our best and then reflect afterwards," he said. "It would be easy for us to throw in the towel but I expect these players to lift themselves in the next 48 hours."

Gatland used Wednesday's press conference to thank the Welsh fans and all the staff he has worked with for more than a decade, adding that he was still unsure about his future.

"I never thought I'd be with Wales for 12 years, I was lucky enough to have some sabbaticals [to coach the British and Irish Lions] and that was really good for me mentally," he said. "I'd just really like to thank the Welsh public. It's been challenging at times but they’ve made it worthwhile, just in terms of how welcoming they’ve been.

"I’m going to miss being there but you’ve got to look forward and be excited. One more game and then I’ll start thinking about the next challenge."

Updated: October 30, 2019 11:48 AM

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