Rugby World Cup 2019
Third Place Playoff
New Zealand 40-17 Wales
New Zealand ran in six tries to win the bronze final and give head coach Steve Hansen a right royal send-off against Wales at Tokyo Stadium on Friday.
Winger Ben Smith led the way with two tries in his final game in an All Blacks jersey, in front of Emperor Emeritus and Empress Emerita.
This was the match nobody wanted to end up in and it was one too many for an injury-ravaged Wales team who, to their credit, refused to surrender when at one stage of the night they were looking likely to suffer a record defeat.
Warren Gatland saw his 12-year reign as Wales head coach end in defeat but he was pleased with his side’s effort. “It was probably a game too far for us,” he said. “But our boys never gave up.”
It was a 12th successive defeat against his countrymen for Gatland – New Zealand remain the only test team he has not beaten – and a 31st in a row for Wales to extend their 66-year losing streak against the All Blacks.
Josh Adams did set a Wales RWC record with his seventh try – beating the mark set by Shane Williams in 2007 – to cement his emergence in the tournament as a world-class winger.
New Zealand were in a merciless mood after last week’s semi-final defeat by England had ended their reign as world champions. They raced over for two tries with just 13 minutes on the clock.
On five minutes a slick exhibition of handling by the forwards allowed skipper Kieran Read, in his 127th and final test, to make a break before finding second-row Brodie Retallick – the Player of the Match – whose outrageous offload sent prop Joe Moody racing over from 25 metres.
The second was crafted in the backs with scrum-half Aaron Smith finding Beauden Barrett with a neat inside pass and the full-back slaloming his way through the Welsh defence.
Gatland’s campaign has been ravaged by injury in the past couple of weeks and he lost four players in the semi-final against South Africa, but his side showed they were ready to play an attacking game and deservedly responded.
Full-back Hallam Amos dummied a pass before racing his way to the line.
With Tomos Williams proving a live-wire at scrum-half, Wales were forcing New Zealand into conceding penalties and Rhys Patchell landed one to reduce the deficit to four points.
But just when Wales were thinking they were right back in the game fly-half Patchell blotted his copybook in a decent first-half display with a sloppy pass while launching a counter-attack.
The ruthless Kiwis struck with Smith too easily powering past four Welsh defenders to score on 33 minutes, cleverly touching down the ball while on his back with his arms outstretched over his head.
Then right on half-time Smith popped up on the right-wing and fended off Williams with a palm to the face to score. Fly-half Richie Mo’unga maintained his perfect conversion record with a fourth kick to make it 28-10.
Emperor Emeritus and Empress Emerita took their seats at half-time and within minutes saw another Kiwi try as centre Ryan Crotty crossed after another cracking offload, this time from fellow centre Sonny Bill Williams.
Patchell joined Wales’s lengthening sick-list with a shoulder injury soon after Smith had a try hat-trick ruled out by a forward pass, which must have been by millimetres.
Alun Wyn Jones was given a rousing reception when his record 134th appearance for Wales was ended just before the hour mark after another heroic effort in the second row.
Adams soon picked up from close range and got the ball down for the 10th time in the calendar year – more than any other player.
But the last word had to come from the All Blacks with Mo’unga scoring from close range on 76 minutes. He missed his conversion to finish with 17 points but is the tournament’s top scorer on 54 points, seven ahead of South Africa’s Handre Pollard and eight clear of England’s Owen Farrell, both of whom play in Saturday’s final.