It's been an honour to work with Gatland, says skipper

Alun Wyn Jones has paid tribute to the New Zealander, who has won the hearts and minds of a rugby-loving nation during his 12 years at the helm.

TOKYO, 1 Nov - Alun Wyn Jones has hailed the departing Warren Gatland as the man with the Midas touch for having transformed the nation's rugby fortunes.

The Wales head coach, pictured above with Jones, took over when Wales had slumped to 10th in the world after crashing out of Rugby World Cup 2007 following the pool defeat by Fiji.

He departs after the bronze final against New Zealand having won three Grand Slams, and there was another Six Nations title while he was on a sabbatical.

Wales also reached two World Cup semi-finals, losing to France in 2011 and South Africa here in Japan, as well as the quarter-final at RWC 2015. For a short spell in August this year, Wales were ranked No.1 in the world for the first time.

"He's had the Midas touch at times," said captain Jones, who on Friday against the All Blacks extends his record number of Wales caps to 134. "I am fortunate to have been involved in his tenure.

"He is one of, if not the most, successful northern hemisphere coaches ever. Obviously, an appearance on Saturday has eluded us. That would have been the jewel in the crown.

"From where we were in 2007 to where we are now... it's a far cry.

"He is fiercely loyal, not only to players but to the country and the job. When the pressure has come on he has stuck to his guns. When you talk about change, he has been reluctant to do that at times, and it has paid off.

"He's created expectation. There's always expectation playing rugby for Wales but that's gone through the roof in the last 12 years over his tenure. That is a privilege."

Jones's fourth World Cup with Wales will be his last, though he looks set to carry on playing for his country for the next couple of years.

The second-row stalwart is tipped to be the British and Irish Lions captain when Gatland returns from New Zealand to lead the 2021 tour to South Africa, having won the test series in Australia in 2013 and drawn the series against his native country in 2017.

"Never say never," said Jones of his Lions prospects. "But I've got Friday to think about before we get into any of that. I'll definitely have some quiet time when we get back home. Sort some stuff out and reset the focus.

"When you're in this position, you want to do it for as long as possible. I've got a bit longer yet.

"I think am one of the eight to 10 players who aren't going to have another World Cup. From a selfish point of view I will acknowledge that and that's probably why this one meant so much.

"It is what it is, we have another game and a lot of the guys here will have another opportunity. I will be right behind them in whatever guise I have when that time comes around."

Jones, 34, had no intention of sitting out the bronze final as Wales look for their first win over New Zealand since 1953.

"I've started this journey so I'm going to finish it. The show goes on, doesn't it? It's not the show we wanted but we've got to move on."

RNS ig/js/ajr/mr/co