The response from the All Blacks to their semifinal defeat will be measured against Wales on Friday but for the youth of New Zealand, there may already be lessons to absorb from this ultimate test of character.
The All Blacks didn’t want to be that team who were grumpy and sour after defeat to England. From the top down, they have fronted with honesty and emotion, yet it’s behind the scenes the real example has been set.
After the toughest loss of his career, Richie Mo’unga revealed this week taught him to never take anything for granted but, more importantly, that he needed to turn the emotional tap on and off and that it is okay to make time to lie down and cry.
“That’s something I’ve had to do the last couple of days,” Mo’unga said, one day before the All Blacks attempt to prove their resilience by getting up off the floor for the third and fourth playoff.
Asked how this traumatic experience could relate to young men throughout New Zealand, many of whom are not yet willing or comfortable sharing emotions or even engaging in genuine conversations, Aaron Smith detailed how the All Blacks did exactly that this week.
“For us it started at the review. Coach asked us all how we were feeling. There was a lot of pain, a lot of honesty. You’ve got grown men pouring their hearts out and that’s showing massive vulnerability. Whether that would have happened a while back, maybe not,” Smith said.
“We really care about each other lot, we check in on each other, you can see people have the little convos.
“I’m really proud of the boys to show the emotions they did. A lot of people won’t know what was seen in the changing room or what we did on Monday and how honest we are with each other.
“Sometimes being that honest in a tough situation is hard to take but we all did it and we left the room feeling not happy, but better.
“It’s still there, it still hurts, but we’ve got a great opportunity to make sure we go into the summer with a better feeling.”
The All Blacks don’t want to be here. But rather than sulk or seek isolation to ignore their pain, they have instead confronted it head on. The mental health lesson in all this, as Steve Hansen explained, is that talking to those around you helps the process of moving forward.
“It is a massive problem in New Zealand and our biggest problem is we don’t give those people who are struggling the permission to say they’re struggling,” Hansen said. “We think we have to hide it. As a result of hiding, it bottles up and bottles up until it gets like a big volcano and it explodes.
“Our job as parents and work colleagues is to support people but first of all you’ve got to know they need the support and to do that you’ve got to know your people and then you’ve got to allow them to be vulnerable.
“How people react to your vulnerability is going to let you to do it again or shut you down so giving permission is the key.
“It’s no different in sport, families or work. We’ve got to do it better than we’re doing.
“Success creates a lot of perception but it’s not always true. There’s a perception I’m a great coach, well, that’s only because I’ve won a number of games. There’s not that many people that would know whether I’m a great coach or not because they haven’t been in our environment.
“Your real character comes out when you’re under pressure and that’s the exciting thing about Friday, how we respond to that.”
The measure of success this week will be whether the All Blacks maintain their 66-year winning hold over Wales. But by simply being real, they have already shown even the most revered need support and that voicing vulnerability should be admired, not feared.