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In an extract from his autobiography, All Blacks’ captain Kieran Read remembers the aftermath of the semifinal exit from the Rugby World Cup.
The tears stopped on Monday, but the hurt refused to leave. I doubt there is a hole deep enough to bury it. There will be days to come this week, and next, and then the month after that, and maybe in a couple of years, when I will trip over some jagged, rusting edge of it and open afresh a wound that refuses to fully heal. That’s the way defeat works, especially when all I had thought about for four years was victory.
The tears stopped on Monday and frustration filled the void. We sat slumped in the All Blacks team room, in a forest of Tokyo high rises, where two days after the semifinal of the 2019 Rugby World Cup we reviewed the game. Okay, let’s be honest here: we reviewed the loss. In every frame, a missed opportunity; in every clip an alternate reality: a technicolour tragedy rendered in slow motion serving first to magnify regret and then to strengthen resolve. We watched in disbelief to begin with, a room of shaking heads and downcast faces.
And then we snapped out of it.
‘Are you happy, Daddy?’ That was all my little boy Reuben had wanted to know the day before, which was the day after: my 34th birthday, my toughest night as All Blacks captain. He had looked up at me, his tight curls of hair as blond as pine shavings tumbled around his cheeky face, and I had smiled then and thought I was. Right in that moment, I was. Pain comes in waves, though, and Monday had been tough again. The review had made it tougher still — the honesty, the clarity, the sheer ease with which we could see things then that on Saturday had been so uncharacteristically hidden from view. We had to draw a line under it, then and there. We were lucky to have one more chance that week to show what we could do. We had one more chance to play for our country.
My body was wrecked after the England test. I had run further in the game than in all but a handful of test matches before. The usual aches and pains taunted me, taking turns with all-new areas of interest and inflammation to protest against a full range of movement.
Movement, however, was what was required. We needed to move forward, to accept that what might have been will never compete with what was. On Monday night we drew a line in the sand. Yes, a semi-final loss was a long way from what we had wanted, but there was no do-over. We had been beaten, fairly and squarely, and now we had one more game left. It would be my last.
The laughs started on Tuesday. I had invited the boys of New Zealand operatic trio SOL3 MIO to the hotel and they spent the evening singing for us and bringing the house down with their jokes. It was a
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