New Zealand ended its Rugby World Cup campaign on a conciliatory high by beating Wales 40-17 in the third-place playoff match at the International Stadium in Yokohama.
The All Blacks picked themselves up after the mauling they received at the hands of England in last week’s semifinal and scored six tries to Wales’ two in a characteristically clinical display.
Two tries from Ben Smith as well as scores from Tom Moody, Beauden Barrett, Ryan Crotty and Richie Mo’unga saw the men in black maintain their unbeaten run against Wales stretching back to 1953.
For its part, Wales was bold and ambitious whenever it had possession. A try apiece from Hallam Amos and Josh Adams meant this injury-stricken team could at least sign off on the tournament with some positivity.
“I’m immensely proud,” Kieran Read said in the post match interview, the last one as All Blacks captain. “This jersey means a lot. It’s been part of my life for a long time. It dictates that you try and leave it in a better place than when you found it. That was my aim in my entire career and hopefully I’ve done that.”
Reminder of New Zealand’s pedigree
New Zealand exploded out of the blocks and crossed the line inside five minutes. Prop Moody’s marauding run set the tone before Barrett scythed his way through the Welsh defence to dot down under the posts on 13 minutes. Mo’unga converted twice and inside a quarter of an hour, Wales was 14-0 down.
The men in red roused themselves from their inertia — partly the result of a spate of unfortunate injuries, partly from the bruising 19-16 semifinal defeat by South Africa last Sunday — and registered their first score on 19 minutes. A slick back line move following 15 phases gave fullback Amos a gap in the line to score. Rhys Patchell kicked the conversion, as well as a penalty, and Wales were back in it.
But New Zealand has gears that others can’t reach, and it effortlessly ramped up the intensity. Smith, playing his final game for the All Blacks, scored two tries before the end of the first half. His second just before the gong was preceded by a disdainful hand off in the face of Wales’ scrumhalf Tomos Williams.
The teams headed into the break with New Zealand 28-10 ahead with all signs pointing to a rout.
It took the men in black fewer than two minutes after the restart to bag their fifth five pointer. The ball was stolen off a Welsh line out and worked towards Sonny Bill Williams, who straightened the line, won his collision and delivered a trademark offload in the tackle for the onrushing Crotty to score.
The two All Blacks centers, with 98 caps between them, announced they would retire after the tournament and in one perfect move they offered a microcosm of what made them so successful over the years.
This match was potentially captain Alun Wyn Jones’ last for Wales. The towering lock has yet to decide on his future, but is already his country’s most capped player with 134 appearances.
“We’ll see how it goes and let the dust settle,” was Jones’ reply when asked if this was his last outing for Wales, before reflecting on the game. “We tried to play a bit, the scoreline probably didn’t reflect that, but we had nothing to lose and go out with a bang.”
Jones was all smiles after the match but there was little joy throughout the 80 minutes with winger Adams’s try and Dan Biggar’s conversion around the hour mark his team’s only scores of the second half.
New Zealand, though, was not done and Mo’unga brushed off several challengers to crash over the line four minutes from the final whistle to underline the gulf between the two teams.
Goodbye to two legendary coaches
It is often described as the match no one wants to play, but it is certainly the match no one wants to lose and Steve Hansen will be glad with the way he signed off from his seven years — including two World Cup triumphs in 2011 and 2015 — in charge of the All Blacks.
“It was important we came back and honored the jersey and the fans and got over the disappointment last week,” Hansen said after the match. “We’ve played good footy all the way through. I’m really proud of the boys today.”
His counterpart Warren Gatland leaves the scene as Wales’ head coach without a morale-lifting win. But, like Hansen, his legacy is secure.
“I have loved my time with Wales,” an emotional Gatland said. “The people have been amazing and incredibly welcoming.”
Gatland won four Six Nations alongside three Grand Slams and three Triple Crowns. He also led the British and Irish Lions in 2013 and 2017 and will do so again in 2021. He now returns to his native New Zealand to take charge at the Super Rugby franchise the Chiefs.
Both coaches have left an indelible mark on the game. This curtain raiser for Saturday’s final between South Africa and England is not how either would have envisaged taking their final bow. But few can doubt their contributions to what has been a memorable tournament.