TOKYO, 28 Oct - It has already been a week flooded with emotion for the vanquished champions from New Zealand and it is set to become even more highly charged as the All Blacks prepare to bid farewell to some of their most distinguished servants in Friday's bronze final.
As their rugby-infatuated nation plunged into despondency after the ruthless semi-final dethronement by England on Saturday, captain Kieran Read and coach Steve Hansen, pictured after the semi-final, betrayed the extent of their own hurt as they were left close to tears at a press conference the following day.
Just a couple of questions about their post-match comforters was all that was needed to prompt their emotional responses.
Hansen had to take a moment to reach for a glass of water as he reflected how his first phone call on the pitch after the match was to his wife Tash, while Read was choked up as he revealed how the birthday cards from his three kids waiting for him back at his hotel room had given him fresh perspective.
"It's a rugby game, people care, we care, you enjoy moments," said Read. "I'm a dad and that's first and foremost the thing I want to be remembered by. It's all relative when you think about it. My kids aren't going to love me less. Your family and people close to you go through that as well. They hurt and struggle."
Read baring his soul like this was in part down to the realisation that Friday's match against Wales at Tokyo Stadium will not just be his 127th and final appearance in the black jersey but also the swansong for Hansen and several of his fellow leaders on the field.
It was crucial, Hansen reckoned, for them to get the balance right between the emotion of the farewells and the need to ensure it was all channeled into a big performance from a team who do not believe in back-to-back defeats.
"We see it as a chance in some ways to redeem ourselves," as Hansen’s assistant Ian Foster put it on Monday.
"This team will never be together again," said Hansen. "We all know that some people are moving on so it's an opportunity for us to go and express some things that we find particularly special. We have to represent the legacy of the jersey.
"When you get knocked over, your character's going to be questioned and you have a choice. Do I stand up and wear my big man's pants, or do I stay down and wear my little boy pants? We're going to try to stand up and represent our country again with pride and dignity."
THE DEPARTING ALL BLACKS HEROES
A great captain and great number eight, Read will move on to play for Japanese Top League side Toyota Verblitz on a two-year contract after the World Cup, signalling the end of his superb 11-year international career.
One of modern rugby's great full-backs, 33-year-old Smith never really got a chance to demonstrate his excellence here in Japan, having been left out of the 23 for the knockout games. He is expected to win his 84th cap on Friday and will be hoping to add to his 37 test tries before starting a new phase of his career with French Top 14 club Pau after RWC2019.
Another unused player in the knockout stages, the experienced 31-year-old centre, who has scored 11 tries in 47 tests, had looked sharp in the All Blacks' opening victory over South Africa and for 40 minutes against Canada before missing out in the tough competition for places to Anton Lienert-Brown, Jack Goodhue and Sonny Bill Williams. Crotty is joining Japanese club Kubota Spears.
The 31-year-old flanker is back in contention for a place in his final All Blacks game after recovering from a shoulder injury that kept him out of the England match. A terrific 24-test servant in the back row for six years and one of Hansen’s favourites, he will play for Japanese club Panasonic Wild Knights in Ota.
Sonny Bill Williams
The king of the offloads has not announced his post-World Cup plans but it is widely believed that, at 34, this could be his 58th and last appearance for the All Blacks before he turns his versatile hand to another late-career sporting adventure.
He even noted with a smile on Monday that reports had suggested he was ready to become a coach, so he wondered mischievously if he should apply for the All Blacks job when Hansen leaves.