Rugby World Cup: Emotional assistant coach Jason Ryan in tears over All Blacks legends' devastating last defeat

In the 12 months since his addition to the All Blacks coaching staff, assistant Jason Ryan has proved himself a man who wears his emotions on his sleeve.

Turns out that holds truer than ever after losing a Rugby World Cup final.

The former Crusaders forwards guru was brought into the programme to fix a shaky pack that had coach Ian Foster on the verge of losing his job last year and much of the All Blacks' improvement can be traced back to his honesty in addressing those problems.

That honesty has been laid bare for all to see, as he comes to grips with the 12-11 defeat to South Africa at Stade de France - a result that could so easily have swayed the other way on the blow of a whistle or the bounce of a ball.

Aaron Smith reflects on his World Cup medal, while Jason Ryan laments the result.
Aaron Smith reflects on his World Cup medal, while Jason Ryan laments the result. Photo credit: Image - Photosport/Newshub

"It's a tough one to take," said Ryan, biting back tears. "The cards and the accuracy cost us in the end - it's a tough one.

"I couldn't be prouder. Right up until the end, I still thought we were going to win it.

"There were a couple of momentum shifts there and we were still a chance. We were just getting off the ground, we were still moving our feet... the boys wanted it, you could see that, and you can't ask for much more than that.

"A couple of kicks go over... it's sport, isn't it?"

Referee Wayne Barnes did New Zealand no favours, showing flanker Shannon Frizell an early yellow card, before repeating that dose with captain Sam Cane, whose yellow turned to red and left his team shorthanded for the remainder of the contest.

The All Blacks entered this tournament under a discipline cloud, after conceding a record defeat to the same opponents in their final warm-up match, with lock Scott Barrett also red-carded. They lost winger Will Jordan to yellow in their opening loss to France and then prop Ethan de Groot missed games for his red against Namibia.

That Achilles heel came back to bite them at the most inopportune moment, compounded when Springboks captain Siya Kolisi was yellow-carded for a similar offence to counterpart Cane, but wasn't upgraded.

Ryan refuses to be drawn too deeply into criticism of Barnes, but deep enough to show his feelings.

"I don't like the word bitter," he insisted. "There just needs to be consistency."

Instead, his immediate thoughts are for the men has molded back into a world class unit, many of whom won't be back next year. Some may return, others are gone for good.

"I just feel for the boys," said Ryan. "You can see them in the shed, taking their jerseys off for the last time - that's tough.

"Brodie, Colesy, Sammy Whitelock... they're immortals of the All Blacks and they're great New Zealanders. It's tough for them, but we move on, don't we?

"That's sport. I love them."

Ironically, Ryan will be back - the only staff member retained under incoming coach Scott Robertson - but that seems a long way away right now.

"I haven't even thought about that, to be honest," he said. "We're just going to enjoy the next 48 hours, before we head home and see our families - and still be proud All Blacks."