Rugby World Cup 2019: Five big things from the All Blacks' bronze-medal win over Wales

Bye bye Barnesy

 

OPINION: How fitting that, among all those bowing out of international rugby after this game, referee Wayne Barnes was given an All Blacks game as his swansong.

Those with long memories - and limited capacity for forgiveness - will know that Barnes was the official who somehow missed a blatant forward pass that hurt New Zealand so badly in the 2007 quarter-final loss to France.

The Englishman was the target of death threats and abuse afterwards, and he has carried that unwanted label of the All Blacks' nemesis for more than a decade after.  

For all that, he's been one of the world's best, presiding at four World Cup tournaments and many more All Blacks games since. 

Four more years for Aaron Smith?

 

During the week, the All Blacks halfback expressed the hope that he could hang around another four years for the next World Cup, by which time he would be a venerable 34.

While he struggled against England last week, the man they call 'Nuggy' reminded us of his ability with a first-half display that cut the Welsh to ribbons.

Smith found Beauden Barrett running an angle off him to score and then found Ben Smith for both his tries before the break.

His strength has always been his speed of pass and Smith's longevity will depend largely on how well he can retain that into the twilight of his career. 

Bye bye Bender

 

If there's no other justification for playing this almost meaningless 'bronze-medal final', it's to give players like Ben Smith a chance to bow out in appropriate fashion.

After a decade in the black jersey, Smith had virtually become anonymous this year, as the Mo'unga-Barrett experiment soaked up his preferred fullback spot and the emergence of Sevu Reece ousted him off the wing.

He deserved one last opportunity to show his wares and he got it, although his night started badly, when he was badly beaten by Hallam Amos for Wales' first try.

But Smith more than atoned, scoring two outstanding first-half tries and having hat-trick effort cruelly disallowed for (ironically, given it was Barnes' call) a forward pass.

Surely, he owed us that non-call.

Farewell, Ben from Accounts, you've served us well.

Fitting farewell

 

Most of those leaving the All Blacks ranks had their moments to shine in their final appearances.

Sonny Bill Williams in action against Wales
Sonny Bill Williams in action against Wales. Photo credit: Photosport

Skipper Kieran Read lead the 'Kamate' haka - just the third time he has fronted the pre-game challenge - then handled during the build-up to Joe Moody's opening try. He finished as leading tackler with 21.

Centre Ryan Crotty made an early break and ran off midfield partner Sonny Bill Williams for second-half try.

No-one really knows what the future holds for Williams, 34, although he has been strongly linked to a multi-million return to rugby league. If this was his swansong, he turned in his usual yeoman effort on attack and defence, including seven tackles, three offloads and that try assist to Crotty.

Perhaps the most anonymous of those bowing out was flanker Matt Todd, who must have battled hard to even make the line-up, after missing last week's semi with a shoulder injury. He was given 20 minutes at the end.

The drought continues

 

This result extends the All Blacks' 66-year dominance over Wales.

It seems incredible that this rugby-loving nation has enjoyed such a storied history in the game, but has only toppled New Zealand three times - including their first-ever meeting in 1903, infamous for Bob Deans' disallowed try - and not since 1953.

That's a losing streak of 31 consecutive tests.

While coach Warren Gatland has enjoyed success against his homeland with the British & Irish Lions two years ago, he hasn't been able to convert that into victory for Wales.

Remember, too, that counterpart Steve Hansen and All Blacks predecessor Sir Graham Henry also guided the Welsh without ever bettering New Zealand.

Yet, despite the one-sided nature of this rivalry, it will continue to hold a special place in international rugby.

Join us at 10pm Saturday for live updates of the England v South Africa Rugby World Cup final.

Grant Chapman is Newshub's online sports editor.

 

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