After suffering their only defeat of the Rugby World Cup to England, a resurgent New Zealand capped off on their Rugby World Cup 2019 campaign with a bronze medal after defeating Wales 40-17 at Tokyo Stadium on Friday.
Both head coaches, Steven Hansen and Warren Gatland, went into the affair with wholesale personnel changes to their teams for a third-place play-off match which would be their last in charge. And as fate would have it on the day, the 60-year-old Kiwi coach would rake in one more victory to exit the sport with an enviable record of 93 wins out of 107 Tests, with only four draws and 10 losses, tarnishing it a tad.
Small wonder why Wales has not been able to beat New Zealand in 66 years, with their last of any victory dating back to 9 December 1953, thus extending New Zealand’s winning run over them to 31 Tests. This record remained intact under Japanese skies. Perhaps more worryingly for the die-hard Kiwi, the All Blacks have only finished outside the top three twice across eight Rugby World Cup campaigns.
New Zealand set off from the start with the sole objective of rinsing out the taste of defeat to the English. Two tries in the opening 12 minutes from Joe Moody and Beauden Barrett, rewarded timed passes and support play, six days after their attack was buried under a white blanket. Moody’s had come in the 6th minute of play owing to a brilliant combination of offloads from the forwards. Kieran Read had run a good supporting line before getting Brodie Retallick away before the latter drew his defender and popping to Moody, who ran 20 off meters to dot over the line.
Deserved mention would also go to the All Blacks’ three-quarter line, which was considerably more experienced than their formation in the semi-final, and two of them, Ben Smith and Sonny Bill Williams, were also making their proverbial final appearances in the black jersey. New Zealand had the game sewn up by half-time courtesy of a double try by wing Ben Smith, to go with that of Moody and Barrett, with fly-half Richie Mo’unga kicking over for four conversions.
Wales’ attempt at a fight-back saw full-back Hallam Amos’ dot down for a clever try and an additional five points from Rhys Patchell. However, a try by centre Ryan Crotty for New Zealand and another Mo’unga conversion early in the second half, finished things off before Mo’unga added a last-minute touchdown in the 76th minute.
That was that and the curtain-raiser to tomorrow’s final out of the way. South Africa will attempt to match the All Blacks’ record of three World Cups, while England will be looking for their second-ever piece of rugby world cup silverware.