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With Hansen and Read departing, what next for the All Blacks?

New Zealand must appoint a new head coach and captain as the next era begins.

THE PAIN WAS etched onto Kieran Read’s face, while there was evidence of the blood he had shed too.

Sitting in the post-match press conference, staring out at hundreds of journalists eager for quotes that could explain what this 19-7 defeat to England meant for the All Blacks, Read looked like a man who was truly hurting.

There were notes of emotion underpinning several of his answers. Someone incredibly asked if Read had enjoyed the occasion. 

kieran-read-dejected Codie Taylor consoles All Blacks captain Kieran Read. Source: Andrew Cornaga/INPHO

The All Blacks’ status as back-to-back World Cup champions coming to an end in his final meaningful Test match, England thoroughly dominating the Kiwis from start to finish, Read being hammered by Sam Underhill at one stage – the list of horrors goes on.

So, we can answer that one – no, Read did not enjoy the occasion. Miserably enough, yesterday was Read’s 34th birthday but there would be no celebrating.

Sitting alongside him was head coach Steve Hansen, who was also in charge for his final genuine Test, with next weekend’s Bronze Final being akin to the boss you despise inviting you for dinner – no one wants to be there but you have to show face and go through the motions.

Hansen started with gracious congratulations of England but he bristled when someone questioned Read as to whether the All Blacks had turned up with the right kind of attitude and hunger.

Hansen will step down after this World Cup and leave as one of the great All Blacks coaches, having been an assistant in their 2011 glory and then the main man as they won the 2015 tournament.

‘Shag’ will join Japanese side Toyota Verblitz next season, while Read has signed for the same club as he now gets set to step down as All Blacks captain and retire from Test rugby.

While Read and Hansen have many successes to reflect on, the pain of this semi-final defeat will linger. 

“You could see it on his face, it really hurts,” said All Blacks hooker Codie Taylor of Read.

“He’s a great captain and he’s a great leader. He puts out 80 minutes every week and he never takes a backwards step.

“He’s either leading or limping every time he comes off the field and that’s all you can ask for from a captain. I’m just really proud that I got the opportunity to play with him.”

steve-hansen-with-dane-coles-after-the-game Steve Hansen is stepping down after the World Cup. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

New Zealand is notoriously unforgiving of the All Blacks losing and the front page of today’s Herald on Sunday said it all – a full black page with the words “The All Blacks are out of the World Cup. If you want to read more, go to the sports section.”

There is little doubt that Read’s captaincy has coincided with some tough days for the Kiwis. 

They have lost to Ireland for the first two times, while they drew the Lions series on home soil in 2017, got beaten by the Springboks in Wellington last year, and have now been thumped in a World Cup semi-final.

Read oversaw many successes, of course, but it’s hard not to see from that record that the All Blacks’ incredible dominance has waned slightly as the chasing pack has reeled them in.

The All Blacks’ next moves will be key. 30-year-old lock Sam Whitelock would appear to be next in line for the captaincy, while Sam Cane is among the other obvious candidates, unless the new head coach opts for someone fresher into the group.

Who the next boss will be remains to be seen. The Crusaders’ Scott Robertson has put his hand firmly up by winning three Super Rugby titles in a row, although current assistant coach Ian Foster appears to have long been groomed to succeed Hansen. Whether this World Cup defeat tars Foster is unclear.

There is also a man by the name of Joe Schmidt who is now out of contract and who has expressed his intention to be back in coaching by next June, having taken a break from the game.

Vern Cotter, currently director of rugby at Montpellier, is rumoured to be on the way of out of the French club, while Japan have yet to tie Jamie Joseph down to a new deal. Joseph’s trusted assistant, Tony Brown, is already back in Kiwi rugby with the Highlanders.

Warren Gatland has already agreed to roles with the Chiefs and Lions, while Dave Rennie looks set to be appointed Australia boss.

As ever, the Kiwis have many world-class candidates to pick from and the All Blacks gig is the ultimate job for every New Zealander. 

england-v-new-zealand-2019-rugby-world-cup-semi-final-international-stadium-yokohama The All Blacks have serious talent in this squad and throughout the country. Source: Adam Davy

The new man will, of course, have a ridiculous level of playing quality to work with. This year’s World Cup squad features 13 players who are aged 26 or younger, while there are emerging talents like Braydon Ennor, Will Jordan, Vilimoni Koroi, Isaia Walker-Leawere, and many, many others waiting in the wings.

Even the older players in the current All Blacks squad will be desperate to feature again in France in four years’ time as they look to atone for their shortcomings in Japan.

For now, they must accept the harsh reality of being dethroned by Eddie Jones’ powerful, complete England team.

The All Blacks got a taste of their own medicine but history shows they will look to learn lessons from the bitter taste of defeat.

It will be in a different guise, but they will be back. 

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella  / Reports from Tokyo

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