If the browbeaten All Blacks were expecting an easier time of it in the World Cup bronze match against Wales on Friday, they have another thing coming.
The All Blacks face the Welsh after suffering a crushing semifinal defeat against England in Yokohama City at the weekend, cutting short the team’s charge at a historic third straight World Cup title and robbing Steve Hansen of a fairy tale ending to his coaching reign.
Wales, defeated by South Africa in a scrappy second semifinal just over 24 hours later, are in a similar boat with their head coach, Kiwi-born Warren Gatland, stepping down to return to New Zealand after 12 years as head coach of the Dragons.
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“It’s the only thing we haven’t done, isn’t it?” said Wales’ assistant coach Robin McBryde on Tuesday, when asked what it would mean for Gatland and his team to beat the All Blacks.
“It’s a last opportunity for us, really. Any time you face the All Blacks, it’s going to be a good encounter, it’s a great experience and you can’t shy away from it – you’ve got to embrace it, facing up to the haka.”
Hansen and Gatland have had a few fiery exchanges over the years – most notably in 2017 when Gatland led the British and Irish Lions to a drawn test series in New Zealand.
“It would be good to get one over Steve Hansen. He’s miserable as hell, isn’t he?” McBryde said yesterday.
“I can say that because I know him pretty well and [Mike] Cron [All Blacks scrum coach]. I got the utmost respect for them as a coaching team and we go back a long way. I look forward to crossing paths again and if we manage to get one over them, brilliant.
“The record that Warren had before arriving at Wales and since… he’s just improved on that record. Any team that faces a team coached by Warren Gatland knows it’s going to be a tough challenge. There’s an expectancy.
“The environment he’s created over the last 12 years, you’ve seen players grow and flourish in that environment.”
Asked if the Welsh were excited by the prospect of playing in an inconsequential match, McBryde insisted they were.
“I’m glad because it’s against the All Blacks. I don’t think it would be the same if we were facing somebody else. The All Blacks are the All Blacks. It’s not every team that gets the opportunity to face them, especially in the World Cup,” he said.
“There’s no pressure on anybody so it should be a very entertaining game.”
McBryde would not be drawn on whether the Welsh now regarded the All Blacks as “beatable” following the comprehensive defeat to England.
“Rather than comment on the All Blacks, I’ll comment on England because I thought they were outstanding in that game.
“I was in the crowd, watching it live and in fairness, I thought they were excellent on the day – fully deserving of the win and I think that will make New Zealand a bit more dangerous.”