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'He's a god of the game' - Gatland to bow out against his native New Zealand

Tomorrow’s World Cup bronze final will see several people bidding farewell.

IN SEVERAL WAYS, it’s fitting that Warren Gatland’s last game as Wales head coach comes against his native New Zealand.

Gatland has beaten every other nation during his 12-year tenure but his record against the Kiwis reads ‘Played 11, Lost 11′.

Very few people are expecting that losing run to change in tomorrow’s World Cup bronze final [KO 9am Irish time, eir Sport/RTÉ], but everyone expects to see the Welsh at least delivering a stirring effort in the 56-year-old’s final game in charge.

warren-gatland-file-photo Warren Gatland bows out as Wales boss tomorrow. Source: Adam Davy

While some have been frustrated at Gatland’s words in the media over the years, it’s difficult to argue against the idea that he has been a resounding success as Wales boss.

Three Grand Slams and two World Cup semi-finals have been the highlight achievements and those who have worked alongside him believe he has changed Welsh rugby.

“I’ve said it before, he’s an incredible man not just due to his rugby intelligence and knowledge but he’s also an unbelievable person,” said Wales kicking coach Neil Jenkins in Tokyo today.

“I’d like to think he’s left a fantastic legacy through the results and successes he’s had since 2008. There has been the development of a lot of good players coming through and there are a lot of youngsters in the squad at this moment in time.

“Warren’s knowledge and what he’s done for our game is immense. A ‘thank you’ is not enough as far as I’m concerned. For me, he is a god of the game. I’ve been very, very lucky to be involved with him since he started in 2008.

“He’s taken the boys to new levels, there’s no doubting that. We think we can beat anyone on any given day, anywhere in the world.

“Being Welsh, that’s not something that is easily achieved because we’re not really like that back at home. We tend to prefer to go under the radar a little bit and we’re a bit shy in that sense.

“He’s certainly taken that out of the boys and there’s a belief that no matter where you are, no matter who you’re playing against, you have the ability to win. For me, he’s an incredible rugby man and an incredible rugby person.”

wales-training-session-principality-stadium Forwards coach Robin McBryde is moving on to Leinster. Source: PA Archive/PA Images

While the bronze final is a game that no one really wants to be involved in, beating the All Blacks would be a huge final achievement for Gatland – whose forwards coach, Robin McBryde, is also moving on to join Leinster.

While Steve Hansen has made seven changes to his All Blacks team, that has simply added to the experience levels, particularly in the backline.

Meanwhile, Gatland has made nine alterations to his starting XV, well aware of the fact that Welsh rugby already needs to begin to look to the future.

“We wanted to recognise some of the guys who are playing their last World Cup game, but I’ve always been conscious of what is being left behind and there are some young players that, particularly for the future, need an opportunity to play against the All Blacks in a big game at the World Cup,” said Gatland.

“We felt it was important we didn’t just think about ourselves and think insular. It was looking at the bigger picture, which is what is good for Welsh rugby.

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“Some of that is about giving players an opportunity to perform on the big stage – the players we see for the future like Tomos Williams, Owen Watkin, Owen Lane, and Hallam Amos. There is Adam Beard and Dillon Lewis too.

“It’s a big opportunity for them to go and stake a claim and hopefully Welsh rugby will benefit from the experience they get on Friday.”

Gatland will move home to New Zealand after the World Cup, taking up a new role as head coach of the Chiefs in Super Rugby before a break to lead the 2021 Lions tour of South Africa.

This bronze final will be an evening of goodbyes with English referee Wayne Barnes also set to adjudicate his last Test.

japan-rugby-wcup-new-zealand-england Kieran Read will play his final Test for the All Blacks. Source: Mark Baker

Gatland’s counterpart, Hansen, is bidding farewell to the All Blacks tomorrow in Tokyo, as are captain Kieran Read, centres Sonny Bill Williams and Ryan Crotty, and right wing Ben Smith.

“Steve’s an awesome coach, an awesome man as well,” said All Blacks scrum-half Aaron Smith. “I’ve been very blessed to spend eight or nine years with him and I’ve enjoyed every moment.

“His ability to tell you something but get you to kind of figure it out is something I really enjoy.

“What I love the most is his belief in you. He’s tough on you early in the week but come captain’s run and game day, then he just walks around the changing room and makes you feel like a million bucks, just makes you really want to go out there and play for him.

“It gets me all sad thinking this weekend’s my last time (alongside Hansen) but you never know, there could be some other games in the future where we can connect again.”

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 (captain)

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

1. Nicky Smith
2. Ken Owens
3. Dillon Lewis
4. Adam Beard
5. Alun Wyn Jones (captain)
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 

Referee: Wayne Barnes [England].  

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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