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The wait continues. In a World Cup third-place play-off that offered little in the way of significance or tension, Wales found themselves on the familiar side of history. Much of the conversation before the encounter had been whether the men in red, after 66 long years, would finally be able to get one over their opponents here in Tokyo. But against a superior and incisive All Blacks side, one still smarting from their semi-final defeat by England, it wasn’t to be.
It’s now been 66 years and 31 matches since the Welsh beat New Zealand. The last time they did so, in 1953, the UK was 20 years from joining the EU (then known as the European Communities), Elizabeth II had been on the throne for just over six months and Warren Gatland was yet to be born. A different time, a different era – but some things don’t change, not for the Welsh at least.
After their dethronement in Yokohama last weekend, the All Blacks were in no mood for pleasantries as they cruised to an assured 40-17 victory over their northern hemisphere rivals. With head coach Steve Hansen and a number of veteran players to step down from international duties after the tournament, including captain Kieran Read and double try-scorer Ben Smith, the three-time world champions made sure to hand their leavers a winning send-off.
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For Gatland, who leaves his position after 12 long years in charge of Wales, this was not the World Cup swansong he will have wanted. Despite the spirit and fight showcased by his men, as embodied in both of their gutsy tries, the gulf in quality was too wide to turn this match into a closely-fought contest.
But this is not the performance Gatland will be remembered for. His influence as head coach has been transformative over the past decade, having stripped the Welsh of their underdog status, led them to four Six Nations titles and ever so briefly lifted them to No 1 in the world. The Kiwi’s legacy will live long beyond the scenes of this particular affair.
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