The All Blacks, still a little fragile emotionally after the devastation of their Rugby World Cup semifinal defeat at the hands of a dominant England, have moved on with the help of an honest team meeting last night followed by a “not pleasant” review today in which several players had to don metaphorical bulletproof vests.
The detail of what was discussed was not made public by assistant coach Ian Foster, Sam Cane or Sonny Bill Williams when they faced the media in Tokyo two days after the 19-7 defeat at Yokohama during which they hardly fired an attacking shot, and it’s unlikely ever to.
But it was a necessary evil in order to prepare for Friday’s third and fourth place playoff against Wales at Tokyo Stadium, an unloved fixture if there ever was, but a chance for redemption according to Foster. Williams admitted he didn’t want to play the game at first but quickly changed his mind.
The smiles have become slightly less forced but the pain remains. It will be just as bad for Warren Gatland’s Wales and at least Foster and his players are a day ahead in which is effectively a grieving process, but to get to that point the All Blacks had to rip the Band-Aid off.
“I think you know the answer to that one, it wasn’t pleasant,” Foster said of the examination of his team’s performance. “That’s what reviews are about. Generally an All Black review, whether you win or lose, is pretty harsh because we’re trying to improve our performance.
“This one was a really important one… it was a big occasion and we didn’t play as we wanted to.
“In that sense it was pretty similar to other reviews. It didn’t feel good but … you talk about things and get some clarity on what the solutions are.
“I don’t think you gain anything by not looking at it closely. You might think you’ll feel better but you really don’t. The only way to move on is to be clear in your mind what the solutions are. That’s a mindset we’ve always had as an All Black group.
“We see it as a chance to somehow redeem ourselves. We see it as a chance to show we’re a better team than what we showed last week. And for us as a group that’s really important. We’re actually pleased we’ve got the game. It’s not easy getting knocked out and then going home and spending all summer thinking ‘what if?’ We’ve been given an opportunity to address that.
“Whether it means a lot to other people is probably irrelevant to us.”
Midfielder Williams said it took only about 10 minutes to come around to the idea of putting the boots on again in what is likely to be his final appearance in the black jersey. He’s a possibility to start against Wales alongside Ryan Crotty, another set to leave. Ben Smith is also likely to feature before his departure. Flanker Ardie Savea, who has picked up a knee problem, is unlikely to take the field.
“Straight after the game on Saturday, to be honest I didn’t really want to play this week,” Williams said. “But within the space of five or 10 minutes I flipped the script and I was grateful to my creator for being able to be on the field with some great guys – legends of the game.
“We went through the review process this morning. Some of the boys had bullet proof vests on but we stepped up and we owned it and now we’re just going to get into our mahi (work) and get out there this weekend and do what we do.”
Cane admitted he was becoming more used to the idea of defeat. He, like all the All Blacks, have dealt with this defeat with honesty and openness. “Nothing good is gained from sulking or not moving,” he said. “Make some movements forward and get going again.
“Things don’t always go the way you want them to. Sport teaches you that and that’s the way life is, too.”
For Williams, who now has his pregnant wife and three children with him, the healing process is a little easier – up to a point.
“My little one was out of whack and hadn’t slept too much,” Williams said. “As any of you parents with young kids will attest to, it’s not the best.
“[But] I almost felt bad because I could walk around with a smile and genuinely feel it.”