Billy Stickland/INPHO Ben Smith gets in for his second try.
# class is permanent
Ben Smith sparkles as New Zealand seal third-place spot
The veteran was left out of the semi-final line-up, but sparkled in a six-try win for the deposed champions.

New Zealand 40

Wales 17

A BRONZE MEDAL was never going to be any great consolation for New Zealand after being unceremoniously flung from off their World Cup throne. But the manner of their win in this morning’s third-place play-off may lead to more painful ‘what-ifs’ for Steve Hansen.

Veteran Ben Smith – excluded from the 23 to face England while Sevu Reece, George Bridge and Jordie Barrett were togged out – starred in this six-try win, producing two exceptional finishes before being denied a third as he underlined the enduring quality that will now grace Pau and the Top14.

Ryan Crotty was similarly shelved last weekend while Hansen maintained trust in the centre pairing that had torn through an off-colour Ireland. He combined with Sonny Bill Williams to score the fifth Kiwi try just after half-time.

Of course, this is a match with negligible levels of pressure when compared to the all-or-nothing semi-final clashes and the All Blacks made the most of that freedom with a scintillating opening try from Joe Moody after offloads from Richie Mo’unga, Kieran Read and a rampaging Brodie Retallick.

brodie-retallick Billy Stickland / INPHO Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

Wales found attacking space of their own early on through the tournament’s leading try-scorer Josh Adams, who would ground his seventh of Japan 2019 before the night was out. But it was a timely cut from Hallam Amos that put them on the scoreboard in Warren Gatland’s final match in charge.

By then, Beauden Barrett had carved a way through for New Zealand’s second on the back of a slick Aaron Smith reverse. And it was then over to Ben Smith with his outrageous yet understated ability bringing a 33rd minute try after he cut back against the grain in the Welsh 22 and picked out a straight line through a swathe of red jerseys.

Smith made his way to the corner to help his side open up a 28-10 half-time lead and with that cushion, they added tries at either end of the second half through Crotty and Richie Mo’unga.

With Hansen, Smith and Read among those who move on from this New Zealand side, a six-try win over the Grand Slam winners was a fairly fitting way to end a glorious era, but the scars left by England won’t be soothed by a bronze.

It’s Rugby World Cup final week! On the latest episode of The42 Rugby Weekly, Murray Kinsella joins Gavan Casey and Sean Farrell to preview Saturday’s showdown between England and South Africa.

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