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Rugby World Cup third-place playoff: Wales v New Zealand
Kick-off:9am Irish time, Friday.Venue:Tokyo Stadium.On TV:Live on Eir Sport and ITV.
This may be the most unwanted match of the tournament at the end of a trying week for both squads, but with the departing All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen and captain Kieran Read again becoming emotional in front of the media on their final pre-match press conference, there will be a fair amount of poignancy in the air.
As well as Hansen bidding farewell after 16 years’ working with the All Blacks, the last eight of them as head coach, this match will also mark Warren Gatland’s last game after a dozen years at the helm with Wales.
Accordingly, they’ve both sought to give farewells to some of their most notable and longest-serving players, while also affording games to those who’ve been on the periphery of things.
Read will lead the All Blacks for the 52nd and last time, thus eclipsing Sean Fitzpatrick’s 51 Tests as captain, with only Richie McCaw ahead of him, before relocating to the Toyota club here in Japan.
It will also be a final game for other departing veterans Ben Smith (who is joining Pau), Ryan Crotty and Sonny Bill Williams, as Hansen makes eight changes to the starting team which lost to England. Only Ardie Savea was ruled out with a meniscus tear which will sideline him for two months.
With just a five-day turnaround since their bruising defeat by South Africa, Gatland has made nine changes, several of them enforced as George North, Aaron Wainwright (both hamstring injuries), Leigh Halfpenny (head injury assessment) and Tomas Francis (shoulder) were all ruled out in addition to Liam Williams (who has returned to the UK for ankle surgery).
“It’s one of the positives, I suppose,” said Hansen ruefully of being able to afford some players a farewell game, and asked about this being his last pre-match press conference, said dryly: “I haven’t even thought about it but now that you mention it, it’s quite good, isn’t it? I don’t have to do
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