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Don’t tell the select group of departing All Blacks that Friday’s “loser’s final” at the Rugby World Cup is the match no one wants to play. For them, at least, there is every reason to run out at Tokyo Stadium and finish this tournament as winners.
For skipper Kieran Read, back-three utility Ben Smith, midfielders Ryan Crotty and Sonny Bill Williams and loose forward Matt Todd the bronze medal match against Wales at Tokyo Stadium will represent their farewells as All Blacks. It will be their last lap of the track with the team they treasure above all others and it will not be denied them.
Head coach Steve Hansen made it clear in the wake of Saturday night’s 19-7 semifinal defeat to England – ending the team’s shot at an historic title threepeat – that we could expect changes to the lineup in the form of those departing All Blacks, amongst others. It’s the least they deserve.
Smith, Crotty and Todd (through injury) did not play in the semifinal implosion against England, while Williams came off the bench. Read was the only starter but it’s expected he will lead the team out one final time to finish his legendary career on the appropriate note. It will be his 127th test and 52nd as captain.
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“How important is it to get back on the horse, kick it in the guts and get on with it? It’s massively important,” said Hansen earlier this week. “This team will never be toge
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