Rugby World Cup
Emotional All Blacks out to end era in style
Canon Rugby in Focus: An All Blacks team full of departing legends will look to go out on a high against Wales.
It’s easy to forget they’re human.
Dane Coles, the stroppy, in-your-face All Blacks hooker who loves nothing more than a confrontation, showed that human side when he tried to talk about what it means to have his family with him in Japan.
As tears wet his cheeks, he started and stopped twice before managing to admit it was great to have them in Tokyo.
His wife Sarah is there with their sons, Jax and Reef, and his mum Sonya and father Steve.
“Obviously the result was crap but it’s been good to share it with my boys and my mum and dad, Coles said.
Then he apologised for the tears.
He shouldn’t have. He didn’t have to.
It is refreshing, and humbling, to see such raw emotion, and to be reminded that, while those of us outside the team were disappointed in the semifinal loss to England, none of us hurt like the All Blacks.
For them that loss will be a hollow pit in their stomachs for months to come. It will gnaw away at them in their quiet moments, prompting them to wonder what they might have done differently.
The day after the Black Caps lost the cricket one day World Cup final to England in more controversial circumstances, star allrounder Jimmy Neesham tweeted: “That hurts. Hopefully there’s a day or two over the next decade where I don’t think about that last half hour.”
After the loss to England in Tokyo, All Blacks halfback Aaron Smith apologised via Instagram to his family, friends and fans.
“Words can’t describe how I’m feeling,” Smith said.
We, the fans and media, seem to have matured over the nine iterations of Rugby World Cups. But the despair the All Blacks feel at failing remains as intense as ever.
We, the public, have moved on from the bitterness that saw John Hart’s horse booed in the wake of the 1999 semi final loss to France, and the blame heaped on referee Wayne Barnes for the quarterfinal loss in 2007.
There seems to be a greater acceptance that the All Blacks will lose, even at inopportune times.
Some fans are heading home. They’ve sold their tickets to the final and changed their flights, getting out of Tokyo as fast as they can.
The All Blacks don’t have that luxury. They have to play off for third - a game that exists purely for financial reasons and that no one really wants to play.
But play it they must.
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen and his Wales counterpart Warren Gatland have rung the changes for a test Wales see as another chance to beat the All Blacks.
They haven’t done so since 1953 and Gatland, in his last test as Wales coach before he returns to New Zealand to coach the Chiefs, would dearly love to.
He has a good record with Wales, having won four Six Nations and 85 of his 150 tests. But in 11 attempts during his tenure, Wales have failed to beat the All Blacks.
Equally, Steve Hansen will want to sign off in style as he leaves the All Blacks after a 15-year association that includes two World Cup titles and, as head coach, 92 wins in 106 tests.
He has been New Zealand’s greatest coach and he will be desperate that his final game doesn’t come with a rare loss to Wales.
Hansen has brought back Ben Smith (on the wing which will infuriate his loyal fans) and Ryan Crotty so they can have a last run as All Blacks.
Sonny Bill Williams is also leaving, destined it seems for a big money deal in league, and will start at second-five. Rieko Ioane is on the wing, receiving a chance to show he can still foot it with the best.
Kieran Read will captain the side for the 52nd and final time before he joins Hansen at the Tokyo club in Japan.
There has been much about that World Cup that has created controversy. Staging a tournament in the typhoon season meant two games were cancelled for the first time.
Red and yellow cards overshadowed the pool games as the match officials clamped down on high tackles and the players struggled to adjust.
And now World Rugby, having tweeted out its praise for England’s superb response to the All Blacks' haka, have fined them for getting too close.
It’s ridiculous and adds unwanted oxygen to those who want the haka scrapped, and others who believe the All Blacks are a protected species.
They aren’t. England showed that on the field in Yokohama.
And Coles showed it again when the stopbanks broke and the very human side of professional sport was there for all to see.
“I didn’t mean to cry,” Coles said as teammate Atu Moli put an arm around his shoulder.
Then, as he left the press conference, he apologised again.
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