DRAGONS hooker Elliot Dee is determined to give a fitting finale to Warren Gatland, the man who gave him the chance to fulfil his dream of playing for Wales and the belief to star at a World Cup.

Head coach Gatland’s 12-year reign ends after Friday’s third-place play-off against New Zealand in Tokyo.

He has guided Wales to three Grand Slams, two World Cup semi-finals and a brief spell at the top of the world rankings this summer thanks to a record 14-Test winning streak.

Gatland gave Dee his debut against Georgia in the autumn of 2017 and the Dragons front rower has become a firm fixture in his side, with 27 straight selections for matchday squads.

The 25-year-old from Newbridge was fearing for his Rodney Parade future after an injury-plagued 2016/17 but is now an established Test player, thanks to the backing of Gatland and his management team.

South Wales Argus: DESPAIR: Elliot Dee (right) after Wales' loss to South AfricaDESPAIR: Elliot Dee (right) after Wales' loss to South Africa

"It is going to be an emotional night for the coaches and players,” said Dee. “There are a lot of players who have only been coached by Warren and the rest of the staff since they have been in the squad and it's massive.

“We owe a lot to Warren and the coaches and we want to put down a performance on Friday and send them off well.

"He has benefitted me massively. It is all about getting that chance really and Warren was the guy who gave me the chance and put some belief into me and that's what rugby is about.

“Get a bit of confidence and someone believes in you and you feel comfortable in the environment and I can only thank him for that.

“It was my dream to play for Wales – something I dreamed about as a kid – and he was the guy who gave me that shot.

“I will always be really grateful and he is a great guy and just massive for me really.”

South Wales Argus: FIRST CAP: Elliot Dee with his agents Gavin Rees and Matthew J Watkins after making his Test debutFIRST CAP: Elliot Dee with his agents Gavin Rees and Matthew J Watkins after making his Test debut

Dee has cemented himself as Ken Owens’ deputy and been an everpresent in a 2019 featuring a Six Nations Grand Slam, the rise to number one and a World Cup semi-final.

"It's been amazing, quite surreal,” he said. “If you'd have asked me two or three seasons ago I would never have thought I'd be out in Japan playing in a World Cup and it is something I'm really proud of.

“Over the last 18 months to two years really, the team has become really tight and it's just an unbelievable environment to be in."

Dee has racked up 28 Tests but predominantly had the role of impact sub, coming off the bench for Lions hooker Owens.

The Scarlets front rower is 33 in January and the Dragon hopes the lessons learnt with 16 on his back can help him earn the number 2 jersey.

“I'm comfortable with whatever sort of game time I get and with my role in the team and I am just enjoying it,” said Dee.

"It's massive, it's all about learning. I had a few messages after the game which I replied to and we are extremely gutted not to be through to the final – we fully expected to be in that World Cup final playing England – but it is all about learning as well.

“There are a lot of young boys in the squad, it was their first experience of a game of that magnitude and we will be better for it.”

While Wales would rather be playing England in Yokohama on Saturday, Friday’s game gives Dee a first crack at the All Blacks.

The hooker went viral when he performed a post-game haka for the New Zealand squad at the 2014 World Rugby U20 Championship and now he is poised to face the real thing for the first time before locking horns with a side stung by a shock loss to England.

"It is going to be a big test,” said Dee. “The boys put a massive shift in at the weekend, it was a physical encounter but it is what you dream about, playing the best teams in the world.

“I know all the boys are going to be excited to play the All Blacks on Friday. They have been the best team in the world for as long as I have been watching rugby. Growing up, you look at the All Blacks.

“We will always go into a game thinking that we are capable of winning and we will feel that this weekend.

“They are a great team and I'm sure they are going to chuck everything at us and we are going to do the same so I'm sure it will be a great game.

“We have got to turn some disappointment into some fire for a performance on Friday.”