Read to lead All Blacks for last time in bronze game v Wales
TOKYO (AP) — After weighing up the need to bring in fresh legs and to send out some faithful veterans like Kieran Read and Sonny Bill Williams, Steve Hansen is confident he has picked the right squad to win the third-place playoff against Wales at the Rugby World Cup.
It’s the end of the Hansen era in the All Blacks coaching box, too, but he wants the game also to kick off the next cycle.
“It’s an important test match for a number of reasons. One, we’ve just come off a loss. Two, it’s Wales and we’ve got a history with them that we need to keep feeding,” Hanse said. “We’ve got a legacy and a responsibility to that legacy.”
The All Blacks were on track for a third consecutive World Cup title until they were upended by England 19-7 in the semifinals that weekend. The England squad produced a performance for the ages. The All Blacks hadn’t been rocked enough in the last decade to respond by winning, Hansen said, and so that’s the challenge on Friday.
“Everyone wanted to play,” he said. “There’s been a lot of external talk around this being the game that no one wants to play. From our point of view, we can’t wait to play it.”
Read will be playing his 127th and last test, and will be leading the All Blacks for the 52nd time — a number that ranks him second only to Richie McCaw, who played 148 tests for New Zealand and was captain in 110.
Six Nations champion Wales lost 19-16 to South Africa, ending a streak of four wins against the Springboks and meaning they’re 0-3 in World Cup semifinals.
“This is a test match against an opposition that will be keen to make a statement,” Hansen said. “We need to turn up with real attitude, intent and work ethic.”
The All Blacks have won 31 of the 34 tests between the nations, including all three previous matches at the World Cup.
Hansen was Wales coach in 2003 when New Zealand won the World Cup pool-stage game. New Zealander Warren Gatland has coached Wales for 12 years and never had a win over the All Blacks, a streak he’s desperate to end before he returns to New Zealand to guide the Chiefs in Super Rugby.
Again all three Barrett brothers are in the New Zealand squad, with Beauden Barrett starting at fullback, Scott moving from the blindside flank to the second row, and Jordie on the bench as backline cover. Beauden Barrett still start with 644 points in tests, one behind the great Grant Fox at No. 3 on New Zealand’s all-time list.
Sam Cane will start on the openside and Shannon Frizell on the blind in a backrow combination with Read, with Ardie Savea not available because of a knee injury. Scrumhalf TJ Perenara had stitches and bruising and was ruled out of contention.
Dane Coles will start at hooker for his 69th test, leaving no room for Codie Taylor in the squad.
In a backline featuring four changes to the semifinal starters, three-time World Cup veteran Williams and Ryan Crotty will form a seasoned midfield combination and Rieko Ioane and Ben Smith will start on the wings.
Hansen was asked if he’d thought about this backline, with Aaron Smith and Richie Mo’unga in the halves, may have been his first-choice selection at the start of the season.
“It’s a good one. You’re pretty lucky when you can substitute Jack Goodhue and (Anton Lienert-Brown) with Ryan Crotty and Sonny Bill Williams for example,” he said. “It’s not a bad team when you can take out Sevu Reece and George Bridge and put in Rieko and Ben. It’s made it easy to pick the fresher players.”
The All Blacks haven’t played a bronze match at the World Cup since 2003, when they beat France 40-13 after losing to Australia in the semifinals.
In 2007, after the surprise upset loss to France in the quarterfinals, they went home before the semifinals. In 2011 and ’15, they won the finals.
“It is different, you can’t sidestep that,” Hansen said. “There’s a lot of pain involved and a lot of hurt, but you’ve just got to make that work for you.”