A painful knockout loss in 2007 was the catalyst for an All Blacks resurgence that led to unprecedented Rugby World Cup success.
In his last game in charge, Steve Hansen wants his players to use another painful defeat as inspiration for a new dynasty for New Zealand’s rugby team.
A 19-7 semifinal loss to England last weekend has the two-time defending champions playing Wales on the next-to-last day of the World Cup — for third place.
“It is different, you can’t sidestep that. There’s a lot of pain involved and a lot of hurt, but you’ve just got to make that work for you,” Hansen said. The quarterfinal loss to France in 2007 “has earned us two World Cups because it’s created a real pain that’s personal and deep inside you.
“When you have adversity in sport, it makes you tougher.”
Hansen and Wayne Smith were assistants to Graham Henry 12 years ago when the All Blacks were upset in Cardiff. The squad decamped almost immediately.
“Last time we didn’t get another opportunity to play a game,” Hansen said. “We had to wait four years to get it out of our system.”
And get it out of their systems they did.
The coaching staff was retained, and it rebuilt the team into the one that won the World Cup on home soil in 2011, ending a 24-year title drought. Hansen took over and led the All Blacks to victory in 2015 in England, when the home team was unceremoniously bundled out in the pool stage. The All Blacks were the first back-to-back Rugby World Cup winners.
Hansen used his team selection Wednesday to highlight how championship teams recover from being, in his words, rocked. With that in mind, he picked a combination to take on Wales that was balanced between giving deserving veterans Kieran Read, Ben Smith and Sonny Bill Williams a send-off in the All Blacks jersey, while also utilizing some of the backup players and ensuring it was a lineup that could win.
“It’s an important test match for a number of reasons,” Hansen said. “One: We’ve just come off a loss. Two: It’s Wales and we’ve got a history with them that we need to keep feeding.”
That’s New Zealand’s 31-3 record in head-to-heads — Wales last beat them in 1953.
“We’ve got a legacy and a responsibility to that legacy,” Hansen said.
The All Blacks haven’t lost consecutive tests since August 2011, two months before winning the World Cup.
Wales coach Warren Gatland is desperate to end the drought against the All Blacks before he goes back to live in New Zealand. He guided the Welsh to a Six Nations Grand Slam this year but wasn’t able to steer them to a first World Cup semifinal victory. They’re now 0-3 in the last four following Sunday’s 19-16 semifinal loss to South Africa.
“They like to play an arm wrestle. They love the ball to stay in play because they think they’re the fittest side in the world at that arm wrestle, physical game,” Hansen said. “That’s been Warren’s style for a long, long time.”
Hansen said the stakes were higher than usual for both teams in this game, so he’s prepared for anything.
“Some people externally may be saying there’s nothing on it, there’s no pressure, so therefore they’ll throw the ball around,” he said. But, “there is a lot on the match; their whole year will be forgotten if they win this game.”
Gatland’s last selection as Wales coach has been impacted by injury, with Leigh Halfpenny, George North, Aaron Wainwright and Tomas Francis all unavailable from an already-depleted squad.
Alun Wyn Jones will again start as captain, but Gatland has made nine changes to the starting XV, including elevating Rhys Patchell to start at flyhalf in favor of Dan Biggar.
Wales has “the chance to create a little bit of history against the All Blacks,” Gatland said. “It has been a long time, 66 years, not to beat a side. We have had success against every other nation. The All Blacks have been that elusive team we have not been able to conquer.”
New Zealand: Beauden Barrett, Ben Smith, Ryan Crotty, Sonny Bill Williams, Rieko Ioane, Richie Mo’unga, Aaron Smith; Keiran Read (captain), Sam Cane, Shannon Frizell, Scott Barrett, Brodie Retallick, Nepo Laulala, Dane Coles, Joe Moody. Reserves: Liam Coltman, Atu Moli, Angus Ta’avao, Patrick Tuipulotu, Matt Todd, Brad Weber, Anton Lienert-Brown, Jordie Barrett.
Wales: Hallam Amos, Owen Lane, Jonathan Davies, Owen Watkin, Josh Adams, Rhys Patchell, Tomos Williams; Ross Moriarty, James Davies, Justin Tipuric, Alun Wyn Jones, Adam Beard, Dillon Lewis, Ken Owens, Nicky Smith. Reserves: Elliot Dee, Rhys Carre, Wyn Jones, Jake Ball, Aaron Shingler, Gareth Davies, Dan Biggar, Hadleigh Parkes.
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