Simon Mail previews the third-place play-off at the World Cup with Warren Gatland taking charge of Wales for the final time against fallen champions New Zealand...
"Wales have improved dramatically under Warren Gatland and become renowned as an outstanding defensive unit, partly due to the coaching of Shaun Edwards. Their heaviest defeat since the end of 2016 is by 16 points and this includes a match against the All Blacks."
New Zealand v Wales
Live on ITV
All Blacks' World Cup defence ended by England
New Zealand's era of dominance is over after the two-times defending champions were comprehensively outplayed by England. The All Blacks simply had no answers to an outstanding performance from their opponents as their 12-year unbeaten World Cup record was ended. Instead, New Zealand must face Wales in Friday's third-place play-off in Tokyo.
They could not cope with England's exceptional power and pace in their semi-final, from the moment Manu Tuilagi opened the scoring. New Zealand lost 19-7 but the reality is this scoreline flattered them and it could have been an even bigger defeat. It is rare Steve Hansen's side are made to look ordinary but this was the case last weekend as their firm grip on the Webb Ellis Cup was released.
Hansen ends his tenure in charge of the All Blacks after this match and he will be determined to lead them to a victory in his final game. New Zealand have been accustomed to dominating opponents in this competition but their semi-final is a reality check and likely to lead to a revamp of the playing squad alongside a new coach after this tournament.
New Zealand make seven changes to the team beaten by England with Dane Coles brought in at hooker. Sonny Bill Williams lines up at centre alongside Ryan Crotty for the All Blacks. Kieran Read captains New Zealand for the final time with the 34-year-old forward retiring from international rugby after this match.
Wales agonisingly fall short against Springboks
This was not the ending Warren Gatland had in mind as he also prepares for his final game in charge of Wales. The dream final against England did not materialise with Wales edged out by South Africa in a 19-16 semi-final defeat. It was a desperately tight contest but Wales were punished for conceding too many penalties as their hopes of reaching a first World Cup final fell agonisingly short.
Wales make nine changes from the Springboks defeat although many of these are enforced due to injuries. Wing Owen Lane is handed his World Cup debut in place of George North after he damaged his hamstring in the semi-final. Hallam Amos replaces Leigh Halfpenny at full-back while the tournament's top tryscorer Josh Adams looks for his seventh try after being selected in every match.
Gatland will leave with his reputation as a world class coach enhanced after guiding Wales to three Grand Slams, including in this year's Six Nations, two World Cup semi-finals and briefly to the top of the world rankings. A victory against his home country would be a fitting way to depart although history is not on his side.
The only team Gatland has failed to defeat during his 12 years with Wales is New Zealand and it is difficult to see him achieving this feat in his farewell match. The All Blacks have beaten Wales in every match since their loss in 1953 and the fallen champions will be desperate to finish with a win. Expect New Zealand to come out firing and prove too strong.
Although Wales are unlikely to upset New Zealand, it is worth backing the outsiders to win with a significant handicap advantage. Wales have improved dramatically under Gatland and become renowned as an outstanding defensive unit, partly due to the coaching of Shaun Edwards. Their heaviest defeat since the end of 2016 is by 16 points and this includes a match against the All Blacks. Given a 19 handicap head start, which was a winning bet in four of the last five games between the teams, Wales can keep it competitive even in defeat.
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