Wales makes 3 changes for 3rd place playoff
Updated: October 18, 2011, 01:25
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AUCKLAND, New Zealand(AP) Wales coach Warren Gatland has named Gethin Jenkins as captain and made three changes to his forwards due to suspension, injury and exhaustion in the pack ahead of Friday's third-place playoff against Australia at the Rugby World Cup.
Regular skipper Sam Warburton was suspended for three weeks after being red carded in the 18th minute of Saturday's 9-8 semifinal loss to France for a dangerous tip tackle on winger Vincent Clerc.
To replace him, Gatland has called Ryan Jones into the backrow and switched Toby Faletau from No. 8 to the vacant openside flank. Paul James replaces injured tighthead Adam Jones and Bradley Davies comes into the second row to rest Alun Wyn Jones.
The backline is unchanged, meaning James Hook will start at flyhalf and Rhys Priestland has again been ruled out due to injury.
"We are sticking with the majority of the side which has put together a string of performances for us so far in the tournament,'' Gatland said. "The one change which wasn't forced is based on the fact Alan Wyn ran himself into the ground when we faced France.''
Hook played poorly against France and was replaced at halftime by veteran Stephen Jones, but Gatland felt he deserved another chance.
"The best thing is to get back on the horse. So James gets an opportunity to show us all than he's better than the performance he displayed,'' Gatland said. "I think both our 10s will be disappointed with the way they played ... Stephen when he came on as well. I think it's testament to how well Rhys Priestland has done in this tournament.''
The Welsh conceded a one-man advantage for more than hour after Warburton was sent off on Saturday, yet still managed to score the only try and missed three kicks which could have won the match and sent them into the World Cup final for the first time.
"We feel pretty hollow after last week. It's going to be a test of character of this side to get ourselves up for Friday. We'd like to leave here with our heads held high,'' Gatland said. "The red card and the weather conditions didn't allow us to probably play as much as we would have liked to against France. So hopefully both teams will keep 15 players on the field and we'll see both teams trying to play some really good rugby.''
Wales was among the most impressive teams in the tournament, losing its opening match to defending champion South Africa by a point - again missing chances to win it with late kicks - before finishing second in Pool D and then outplaying Ireland in the quarterfinals.
The Welsh won the corresponding fixture against Australia at the inaugural Rugby World Cup in 1987, after losing in the semifinals to host New Zealand. Australia lost to France in the 1987 semifinals. The last four at this tournament are the same, with New Zealand and France meeting in Sunday's final.
While Wales failed to get back to the last four again until this tournament, the Australians won the World Cup in 1991 and '99 and lost the 2003 final after Jonny Wilkinson scored a late, extra-time dropped goal for England.
The Australians won the Tri-Nations series for the first time in a decade this year, beating New Zealand in the deciding match in August, but went down 20-6 to the All Blacks in the World Cup semifinals on Sunday.
Wales will host Australia in a one-off test at Millennium Stadium in December, and Gatland wants to take bragging rights into that match.
"We face Australia back home in just over a month's time and are single minded in our assertion that we want that home coming to be a celebration of us achieving the status of one of the top three teams in the world,'' he said.
Australia coach Robbie Deans will announce his team Wednesday for the bronze medal match.
"We don't really know what sort of side they're going to put out,'' Jenkins said. "We had a pretty good (training) session today. It's a pretty familiar team and we'll have no excuses really.''
Friday's match could be veteran winger Shane Williams' last for Wales, although he has left his options open by saying he could retire in front of his own fans when Wales plays Australia at home.
"Whether this one is his last one, or whether the next Australia one is his last one, we're not too sure,'' Gatland said. "He'll make that decision himself and he deserves that respect to make that decision. It's not something I'm going to publicly come out and say. He's been such a wonderful servant.''
Gatland reaffirmed his commitment to Wales, saying it was "flattering'' to be linked with the New Zealand job once Graham Henry steps down after the World Cup.
"It's nice to be touted as doing that. To be honest, at some stage in your rugby career, I'm a Kiwi and I'd like to come home and do a bit of coaching in New Zealand,'' he said. "But that's not at the moment, I have a commitment to Wales.''
Wales: Leigh Halfpenny, George North, Jonathan Davies, Jamie Roberts, Shane Williams, James Hook, Mike Phillips; Ryan Jones, Toby Faletau, Dan Lydiate, Luke Charteris, Bradley Davies, Paul James, Huw Bennett, Gethin Jenkins (captain). Reserves: Lloyd Burns, Ryan Bevington, Alun Wyn Jones, Andy Powell, Lloyd Williams, Stephen Jones, Scott Williams.