Steve Hansen urges 'hurting' All Blacks to show character
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen urged his dejected players to show character and bounce back from their World Cup semi-final defeat against England when they take on Wales in the third-place play-off.
New Zealand, who won the last two World Cups, are heading into a game that no one wants to play on Friday and Hansen said it presented his team with an unusual challenge.
"It's easy to have character when you win all the time because it's not tested. Our character has been tested this week," Hansen said on Thursday.
"The most important thing we can do this week is to play to the highest standards ... In doing that, we show not only ourselves and our team-mates but also our country that we've got some character," added the coach, who is stepping down after the game.
Hansen has compared the 19-7 loss to England to losing a family member and he said that letting out the emotion has been a therapeutic process.
Fly-half Richie Mo'unga said there have been times this week where he has taken himself off for a "lie-down and a cry" but that the close-knit team has pulled together.
"In my short career, it is the toughest loss I've suffered in rugby," said Mo'unga, adding that the lesson he had learned was not to take games for granted.
Scrumhalf Aaron Smith said there had been a brutally honest "post-mortem" after the England game that had healed some of the mental wounds.
"You've got grown men crying their hearts out and that's showing real, massive vulnerability," he said.
"To be that honest in a really tough situation is really hard to take and I probably left the room feeling a lot better. Not happy, but a lot better. It's still there, still hurts," added Smith.
As well as Hansen, captain Kieran Read will be playing his last match as an All Black against the Welsh and the players stressed the importance of sending them out on a high.
While Mo'unga at 25 has a lot of rugby ahead of him, Smith revealed that he was aiming at the next World Cup in France - if his body allows him.
Read "turned 34 last week, so there's hope. I'm 30. I say there's hope, doesn't mean I'm going to make it", joked Smith.
"My contract's a two-year deal. You can talk to them to make it four. I'm keen," quipped the scrumhalf.
As for Hansen, he said he was focusing purely on Friday's match and on how to get the best out of his players rather than reflecting on his incredible coaching record.
"I'm going somewhere else after this, which we all know. And I'll have plenty of time to reflect there with a cold beer in my hand. And a hot towel. And whatever else you want me to have."