Swansong match for All Blacks leadership group of Five

Swansong match for All Blacks leadership group of Five
CHOFU, JAPAN - NOVEMBER 01: Ben Smith, Ryan Crotty, Steve Hansen, Head Coach of New Zealand, Kieran Read, Matt Todd and Sonny Bill Williams of New Zealand pose for a photo following the Rugby World Cup 2019 Bronze Final match between New Zealand and Wales at Tokyo Stadium on November 01, 2019 in Chofu, Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

In a game that some claimed to be a waste of time it took the All Blacks leadership group 40 minutes to prove that age is no barrier to success.

With a combined age of 163 years, the group of five All Blacks leadership failed to show their age. Along with a committed squad of 23 men, laid it all on the line to defeat Wales 40-17.

Skipper Kieran Read, Ben Smith, Sonny Bill Williams, Ryan Crotty, and Matt Todd all played their final game in a New Zealand jersey. Joined by departing head coach Steve Hansen and scrum coach Mike Cron, the years of experience and mana helped to overcome a resolved Wales side.

The Welsh should be congratulated for aiming to ‘play the game’ with the ball, rather than the boot. They too had many leading men and their head coach retiring, but the result went against them with a six-tries-to-two outcome.

All Blacks 40 – Tries: Ben Smith (2), Joe Moody, Beauden Barrett, Ryan Crotty, Richie Mo’unga; Conversions: Mo’unga (5)

Wales 17 – Tries: Hallam Amos, Josh Adams; Cons: Rhys Patchell, Dan Biggar; Penalty: Biggar

Not that this match was of inconsequence, but some thought the effort for two teams that had objectives of gold, would be satisfied by a bronze reward. Yet on the field, in the eyes of fans and the millions of viewers, this game was a display of the riches of New Zealand rugby – and a swansong for many names who will be remembered with pride.

Swansong match for All Blacks leadership group of Five

The opening 40 minutes produced 28 points for the All Blacks. It was a brilliant reply to the doubts of a week earlier. And with Wales showing a resolve to kick for the sideline, and go for the points, the 2019 Rugby World Cup bronze medal match was enjoyed by the 49,000 fans at Tokyo Stadium.

Managing Editor Scott Hornell was on hand to witness a rewarding evening for spectators and for the departing All Blacks leadership group of Five.

Each one contributed in their own way and were supported superbly by 18 other players. When Ben Smith scored his second try, it was a display that showed how much each and every one of them would be missed. Smith was unlucky not to be awarded a third meat pie in the second half, and was just out-voted for Man of the Match, by teammate Brodie Retallick.

Sonny Bill was a little restrained, not able to release every offload or make thunderous tackles, but like Crotty and Todd, the combined measure of their contributions added to a positive final game wearing All Black.

Kieran Read has the solid rock that the team required, and when asked postmatch after the game – and his career – he summed it up well. “The guys really appreciate what it means to be an All Black.

“This jersey does mean a lot. For me, it dictates that you try and leave it in a better place than you found it. That was my aim for my entire career, and I hope I’ve done that”. 127 caps, 52 as captain, and holding the record for most tries as a forward means he is seen as a premium number eight forward.

If analyzed based on results, trophies and the stature that one; if not all five players have displayed for the All Blacks values, then they will be proud of how they left the jersey.

Wales not able to control rampant All Blacks

The task of defeating New Zealand at a Rugby World Cup proved too much for the mightiest Welsh player ever. Alun Wyn Jones was ending his long International career, in his fourth World Cup yet even his and his team’s efforts could not bring the second win for Wales over New Zealand.

It meant that Warren Gatland would also end his 12 years as Wales’ head coach, without a win over his native New Zealand. Though when viewed in comparison to other leading coaches, his record is unequivocal. Numerous Six Nations and Grand Slams, coach of the British and Irish Lions and awarded the OBE by the Queen, his and Jones’ places in the Welsh folklore of rugby will be heralded.

As too will Sonny Bill Williams. One player who was divisive in the qualification of his record in rugby union, and in rugby league. Seen early in his career as a mercenary, he has changed that picture with his faith and humility that improved with age. The legendary offloads and ability to link with support players on display, when he set-up midfield partner Ryan Crotty.

And now, with some of the All Blacks leadership group moving on, recollecting many of their efforts and numerous Rugby Championships, Bledisloe Cup wins and more, will be highlight moments for aspiring male and female rugby players of the future.

Mind you, it still did not stop many in the media calling the third-place playoff futile and a waste of time. Yet, if you ask the players – and in a similar vein to the argument that the All Blacks Haka is irrelevant – the men on the field will argue ‘it means plenty’.

Holding their medals, for younger All Blacks players like Jack Goodhue, Nepo Laulala, and Jordie Barrett, they have new goals to set for France 2023. Even while five men move on – as the same occurred in 2015, when McCaw, Carter, Nonu, Smith, Woodcock, and Mealamu retired – new players will emerge, to aim to emulate the input that the departing 2019 senior players have provided.

The Last Word is from Steve Hansen. As the applause around Tokyo Stadium rang out in his appreciation, he simply said: “it’s just been a privilege.”

 

“Main photo credit”
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