Ben Smith Mark Reason: All Blacks will greatly miss retiring quartet after RWC bronze

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SPARK SPORT

Ben Smith and Ryan Crotty score farewell tries, SBW bids farewell as All Blacks beat Wales to claim third spot.

OPINION:It’s just a privilege.

The words of Steve Hansen echo the feelings of so many New Zealanders, of so many rugby fans from all over the world. It has been a privilege to watch Kieran Read, Ben Smith, Sonny Bill Williams and Ryan Crotty play in the famous black shirt. They are men who have done the country proud on and off the pitch.

There was a moment early in the second half of the bronze medal match when the four horsemen of the black apocalypse came together to scorch Wales. Read, in his 52nd and final game as captain, jumped ahead of Wales’s Alun Wyn Jones, a man who is just as big a totem pole in his own country. And for the umpteenth time in his career, Read stole possession from an opponent lineout throw.

Ben Smith Kieran Read excelled as New Zealand beat Wales for bronze in Tokyo.

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Kieran Read excelled as New Zealand beat Wales for bronze in Tokyo.

It wasn’t the best ball, but it was ball, and these All Blacks can do a lot with scraps. Aaron Smith flipped the ball back to Ben Smith who did what he has so often done. He grabbed the pig’s ear, sow’s ear, call it what you will, and he arced towards the space and then straightened. And when possession came back, as if by magic the ball had been turned into a silk purse.

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* Ben Smith’s brilliant one-two
* Wales show ABs’ haka respect
* Could Rennie’s past haunt him?
* RWC results and pool standings

Now it was quality possession. Read ran onto it and made a further hole in the Wales defences. One more phase and then Richie Mo’unga was throwing a little flat ball to Sonny Bill who was coming back on a slight angle.

SBW was hitting those soft inside shoulders which we had pleaded in vain for the All Blacks to target against England. The All Blacks’ three opening tries against Wales came from runners cutting back against the grain to make space. First it was Mo’unga, then it was Beauden Barrett, then it was Ben Smith. The All Blacks always learn their lesson. Only this time it was too late.

When Sonny hit the same hole in the second half Wales managed to drag him down, but SBW had his top-half free. Sometimes you think he is a centaur, all power and galloping hooves below the waist. All arms and soft hands in the upper body. And as we have seen Sonny Bill also do so

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