Rugby World Cup: Emotional team meetings sets tone for All Blacks fuels finale against South Africa

As the All Blacks prepare to farewell some of their greatest players, those departing have outlined to the rest of the squad exactly what it means to wear the black jersey.

On Sunday (NZ time), the careers of a number of New Zealand icons will bid goodbye to test rugby, as the All Blacks face South Africa in the Rugby World Cup final.

Aaron Smith, Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Beauden Barrett, Dane Coles, Richie Mo'unga, Shannon Frizell and Nepo Laulala will end their time as All Blacks, all having signed deals to play overseas in France and Japan.

Of those players, Smith, Whitelock, Retallick and Barrett have all played more than 100 tests, while Coles has played 90.

On Monday night (local time) after the All Blacks returned to training following their World Cup semi-final win over Argentina, that leadership group orchestrated a team session that saw an outpouring of emotion as to what their careers have meant.

And while the team are careful not to think about the end, the departing players have set the tone for the All Blacks' biggest game in eight years.  

"That's been a special part of our week," said forwards coach Jason Ryan. "It was quite a nice time last night listening to some of those guys.

"Anyone who's played 100 tests, you've got a couple of stories haven't you? It was good to listen to those boys."

Meanwhile, for the players staying in New Zealand next year, the impact of those leaving has been felt.

For flanker Dalton Papali'I, who will likely form part of a new leadership group in 2024 and beyond, the emotion shown has been a signal as to the scale of what's to come on Sunday morning (NZ time).  

"There were a few tears, and I think that's awesome to see," said Papali'i. "Players showing vulnerability, and also just opening up about how much this tour and this sort of game means.

"There was something said, this game is probably one of the most important in All Blacks history.

"For an All Blacks team that went through a hard path to get here, [with] media, friends, family criticising us and all that, we stuck together.

"We weren't even meant to be in the final, but look at us? We're here. Different players take it differently, and I think it hit some of the older players a little bit harder.  

"It was good to see a bit of emotion, and the want from them. Seeing that just gives all the other players an extra two, three percent to think we're going to the well, we have to give it our all."

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