Eye on New Zealand: Loss to England cuts as deep into the soul as anything could

The second hardest thing for an All Blacks side is to accept they have been dumped out of a World Cup.

Eye on New Zealand: Loss to England cuts as deep into the soul as anything could

The second hardest thing for an All Blacks side is to accept they have been dumped out of a World Cup.

The hardest thing for an All Blacks side to accept is that they have been dumped out of said World Cup by England.

There's still a bit of the old colonial fire burning in New Zealand. Maybe, depending on what happens with Brexit, Britain will be all 'let's do coffee and talk about free trade deals' with New Zealand, but for now, rugby is the only contact point with the Mother Land.

And rugby of course is where New Zealand dominate the relationship. Rugby is where New Zealand have been able to establish their identity.

Rugby has come to define New Zealand as an independent country and so to lose such a giant and historic fixture to England, cuts as deep into the soul as anything could.

That much became clear the day after the 19-7 loss. As the realisation set in that that the dream of winning a third consecutive tournament was over, the emotions rose closer to the surface.

First coach Steve Hansen, a man who does equal measures of gruff and funny and tends to give the impression he has never cried, not even watching Bambi as a kid, had to take a tactical water break to stop himself from taking an involuntary water break of sorts.

When he was asked to whom he had been talking on the phone on the side of the field after the game, he said his wife. And then he had a wobble. The words wouldn't come. It seemed to hit him hard recalling what was obviously a deeply emotional conversation.

After maybe 10 seconds of silence, he reached for the water glass, raised a hand to acknowledge he needed to compose himself and then finally he managed to navigate his way through an answer without the whole business overwhelming him.

“I rang my wife,” he said a second time, but this time with no catch in his voice. “And we had a bit of a chat and talked to Ted [former All Blacks coach Graham Henry who was working as a TV pundit on the sideline] and Conrad [former All Black Conrad Smith who was also working for TV] about 2007 and we mentioned the fact that it is no different.

“It is the same gutting feeling and then Ted and I talked a little bit about how well George Ford had played. Ted had quite a few comments. I did a bit of a listening, trying to do a little bit of learning and then you just move on don't you.”

Next up was captain Kieran Read, who had the misfortune of his birthday falling on the day of the semi-final.

Victory was the only present he was after, as the man who surpassed Sean Fitzpatrick's 51 tests as captain against England was desperate to become the first to win three World Cups.

Read had major back surgery in December in 2017 and had suffered significant nerve damage as a result of a bulging disc.

Making it back to the test arena was a long and painful process and he had been driven through it all by his desire to make history in Japan.

He appeared to be timing his run perfectly having been brilliant against Ireland in the quarter-final, only to see everything crushed by a rampant England pack.

So when he was asked what it was like to wake up the morning after his first World Cup defeat, he struggled to hold it all together.

“It is pretty empty,” he said. “It is not what we came here for. That's the reality of it. It is not going to define us as a group. It is not going to define who we are.

“There's no two ways around it. You are really gutted but I am sure there are a lot of people in the same boat as us and hurting pretty badly too so we feel for them.

“It was my birthday yesterday and I got back to my hotel room and there were cards there from my kids. It changes things and puts it in perspective.

“It is a rugby game. People care. We care. For me I am a dad and first and foremost - that is the thing I want to be remembered for.”

The emotion for Read and Hansen is particularly raw as they are both moving on. They won't get another chance to put the wrongs of Yokohama right.

Not properly anyway. They will have one last test together in the dreaded bronze medal match and then it will be time up with the All Blacks although not with each other as both are staying on to respectively play for and coach Toyota Verblitz.

And only once that game has been played will the enormity of the last week and indeed the last eight years hit them.

As much as a semi-final loss is a near disastrous way for both men to end their respective All Blacks careers, they have been central figures in what has been an unprecedented decade of success.

Hansen, who was assistant coach between 2004 and 2011 before taking over as head in 2012 will sign off as the most successful coach in All Blacks' history.

Read, with two World Cup medals, more than 50 tests as captain and a world player of the year title in 2013, is among the greatest to wear the All Blacks jersey and arguably the best No 8 New Zealand has produced.

The depth of their character is such that even through their pain, they were talking about the need to bounce back in the bronze medal game and deliver a performance that is expected of All Blacks.

As Hansen said, life is easy when you are winning but it is how you respond to defeat that marks who you are.

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