Wales have named their strongest available team for Friday’s rugby World Cup third-place playoff against Australia, an indication of their determination to win the match and leave New Zealand with their heads held high.
Coach Warren Gatland made three changes to the side which lost 9-8 to France in the semifinals, one forced by captain Sam Warburton’s three-week ban after his dismissal for a spear tackle on French winger Vincent Clerc.
Sometimes described as the “losers’ final”, the game between the sides defeated in the semifinal is often an encounter unwanted by players and fans alike.
Gatland said, however, that having gained so much respect for the style of rugby they have played at the tournament, it was an important for the Welsh to end on a high note.
“We’ve tried to pick the strongest side available to us,” the New Zealander told reporters at the team hotel on Tuesday.
“We still feel very hollow and very empty about what happened against France and we feel that the better team is not in the final of the World Cup.
“It would be easy to get our heads down and not give the performance we know we are capable of but, if this team goes out and performs as they can, we can leave here with our heads held high having earned a lot of respect.”
Toby Faletau moves from No 8 to openside flanker in place of Warburton, while experienced prop Gethin Jenkins takes over as captain for the match at Eden Park.
Ryan Jones comes into the back row in place of Faletau and prop Paul James starts in the front row in place of Adam Jones, who was forced off the pitch with a calf injury during last Saturday’s defeat.
Lock Alun Wyn-Jones drops to the bench and is replaced in the second row by Bradley Davies. Loose forward Andy Powell and prop Ryan Bevington are the additions to the bench.
“The one change that wasn’t forced in the second row is based on the fact that Alun Wyn ran himself into the ground when we faced 14 men against France last week,” Gatland added.
James Hook retains the starting flyhalf position in the continued absence of Rhys Priestland, who injured his shoulder in the quarterfinal against Ireland, with Stephen Jones again backing up on the bench.
Both Hook and Jones missed kicks last Saturday that would have given Wales victory despite playing for more than an hour of the game a man down.
“Both 10s would be disappointed with the way they played … the best thing is just to get back on the horse and show they are capable of better than they showed last weekend,” said Gatland.
Team: 15-Leigh Halfpenny, 14-George North, 13-Jonathan Davies, 12-Jamie Roberts, 11-Shane Williams, 10-James Hook, 9-Mike Phillips, 8-Ryan Jones, 7-Toby Faletau, 6-Danny Lydiate, 5-Bradley Davies, 4-Luke Charteris, 3-Paul James, 2-Huw Bennett, 1-Gethin Jenkins (captain).
Replacements: 16-Lloyd Burns, 17-Ryan Bevington, 18-Alun Wyn Jones, 19-Andy Powell, 20-Lloyd Williams, 21-Stephen Jones, 22-Scott Williams.