By Mitch Phillips
TOKYO, Oct 30 (Reuters) - Wales coach Warren Gatland has made nine changes to his side to play New Zealand in the Rugby World Cup third-place playoff match on Friday — his last game in charge after 12 years.
With Wales edged out by South Africa in the semi-finals, Gatland, who has four players unavailable through injury, has given some of the less-used squad members a start in the match.
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.
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.
Gatland said the squad had done their best to put the semi-final disappointment behind them and were motivated to give their all against New Zealand.
“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 told a news conference. “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 said he had been too busy to really reflect on leaving Wales after such a long spell, but thanked the fans and all the staff he has worked with. “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.”
Editing by Peter Rutherford