The morning after the night before and the All Blacks are struggling to suppress raw emotions attached to their World Cup semifinal defeat.
At the end of their 19-7 loss to England in Yokohama, many players slumped to the turf with disappointment and dread. They were laid out across the field, many not knowing how to react.
Steve Hansen eventually wandered off to the side of the field where he made a phone call. He then spoke with former All Blacks coach Graham Henry and centre Conrad Smith.
Asked today who he called, Hansen needed to compose himself to prevent an emotional response that would lead television bulletins for days to come.
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“I rang my wife,” Hansen said, pausing to take a sip of water in order to hold back tears. “And we had a bit of a chat.
“I then talked to Ted and Conrad about ’07 and we mentioned the fact it’s no different, the same gutting feeling.
“Then Ted and I talked about how well George Ford had played. Ted had quite a few comments and I did a bit of listening, trying to do a bit of learning, and then you just move on don’t you?
“Is it hard to stomach? Course it is. It’s gut-wrenching because we wanted to win the thing but so did they. Life’s not fair so why would sport be fair. You don’t always get the thing you want. And when you don’t you’ve got to measure your character on how you deal with that.”
Comparing this defeat to the All Blacks’ last early World Cup exit 12 years ago, when he was assistant coach, Hansen acknowledged they will be forced to point the finger within again.
“What comes out of a tournament like this, and it’s unique because it’s knockout and you don’t get a second chance, so the pain isn’t alleviated by playing another test next week.
“Whoever we play next week won’t alleviate the pain that we haven’t achieved what we wanted to which was come here and win it. You’ve got to bank that and sit back and learn the lessons.
“We’ll do that when the tournament finishes, about what we could have done better.
“Winning is easy. You don’t get too much poked at you. But when you lose you are gutted but at the same time you have to show humility and do it gracefully and be honest. Sometimes you just have to bite down on your gum shield and suck it up.”
Mentally and physically, All Blacks captain Kieran Read cut a shattered figure at last night’s post match press conference.
Today the scar above Read’s right eye had begun to heal but those on the inside were again laid bare as he spoke with a lump in his throat while reflecting on the devastating result that forces him to now contest a third and fourth playoff in his final test.
“It’s pretty empty,” Read said. “It’s not what we came here for, that’s the reality of it. It’s not going to define us as a group or who we are.
“There’s no two ways around it that you’re really gutted but I’m sure there’s a lot of people in that same boat with us and going through those emotions. We feel for them as well.
“As the leader you look at ways you could have done things differently but that’s all hindsight. It’s not going to affect your emotions right now. It’s not going to change the fact we lost. I’m proud of the effort and character.”
Read, on his 34th birthday, at least found some solace when he arrived back from the game.
“The fact it was my birthday so to get back to the hotel and there were cards from my kids waiting for me. That puts things in perspective. It’s a rugby game. People care, we care, so you enjoy moments. For me I’m a dad and first and foremost that’s the thing I want to be remembered by.”
Read said he wouldn’t change anything about the passion and expectation placed on the All Blacks by New Zealand.
“Next year I’m going to be one of those people, a fan, wanting the All Blacks to win. It’s the nature of who we are as New Zealanders.
“I think we’ve learnt a lot, potentially, over the last dozen years or so about loss and perspective and what it means to be a fan.
“As a nation we’re passionate about punching above our weight. We understand that’s part of our job as All Blacks to try and achieve things for us. I’d hate to lose the expectation that comes with being an All Black.
“It’s all relative. My kids aren’t going to love me any less. For me it’s a tough pill to swallow because of the effort everyone has put in. It’s the connections you have with your mates that make it tough but your families and ones close to you go through that as well. They hurt and struggle.
“We get one more crack at it so we’ll make the most of that.”