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End of an All Black era, but NZ still boast enough leaders to continue unparalleled success

Don’t go feeling sorry for New Zealand just because the heart is about to be ripped out of their double World Cup-winning side.

BEFORE RICHIE MCCAW led his New Zealand side into the first of this World Cup’s knockout fixtures, the ghosts of 2007 were impossible to ignore.

New ZealandÕs Richie McCaw Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

McCaw was back in Cardiff, back to meet France in a Millennium Stadium quarter-final, back in front of Thierry Dusautoir who foiled them eight years ago – and almost did the same in Auckland in 2011.

McCaw wasn’t buying in to ghost stories though, instead he continually went back to the line: what happened in 2007 paved the way for the eight years that followed.

He assured everyone outside and within his camp that things had changed. Now, with a second world cup medal to stick on the mantelpiece, the eight years since that early exit can’t be viewed as anything but an outrageous success.

Today however, marks the end of that era – the McCaw era – as the captain and chief playmaker Dan Carter lay down their silver fern along with at least three more stalwarts.

The heart is being ripped out of this invincible Kiwi side. McCaw, Carter, 132-cap Keven Mealamu, London Irish-bound Ben Franks and, of course, the world-record holding midfield partnership of Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith.

Just don’t go feeling sorry for the ABs just yet, they’re losing greats of the game, but they have a few more key components who won’t be going anywhere.

New Zealand celebrate at the end of the match Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“Really proud of the legacy that those guys are going to leave,” said Kieran Read, who won his second World Cup medal and his 84th cap a week after his 30th birthday.

“It’s been a phenomenal team over the last few years and it’s been a pleasure to have been a part of it.”

Read will be a core leader for head coach Steve Hansen when the rebuilding begins next year, a driving force in the famed culture New Zealand rugby presents as the basis for its recent success – the reason that outrageous talent has finally translated in to unparalleled dominance on the very biggest stage.

The number eight, who said he “wasn’t really willing to come off” despite taking a nasty knock to his ankle in the first half of the World Cup final, won’t be alone. The four-year gap between World Cups may mean that he is on the last leg of his career in Japan, but the engine room of the All Black pack will still be at the peak of their powers.

Samuel Whitelock and Kieran Read Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“It’s been awesome to play alongside them,” says Sam Whitelock – the grizzled totemic fixture in New Zealand’s second row that is vastly more experienced than any 27-year-old has a right to be – about the departing legends.

“They’ve really embraced All Black culture and they’ve helped to grow, left it in a better spot than where they started.

On the field, they’ve given everything. they’re outstanding players in their own individual right. But then off the field, things you don’t see unless you’re involved with the team. They’re all great guys, the way they spend time with you if you’re new and make sure you’re feeling alright.

“They’re genuinely good Kiwi blokes, that’s the way it is.”

It takes more than being a good bloke to lead the world’s best team. Yet the minutes clocked up up by men like Whitelock, Read, Brodie Retallick, Dane Coles, Nehe Milner-Skudder, Julian Savea and Beauden Barrett at this tournament will be invaluable to keeping the grey flecks of experience within the All Blacks sheen.

14 World Cup games unbeaten since that astounding 2007 night in Cardiff. 14 and counting.

- Reporting by Murray Kinsella

‘The old legs have got a bit of life in them!’ – Dan Carter finishes with pride

Nonu’s Ma’avelous try, Dan Carter’s deadly drop-goal and the rest of the RWC final highlights

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Sean Farrell

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