Head coach Steve Hansen was emotional on Sunday as he recounted the aftermath of the loss, having to pause to collect himself and take a breath before answering a question. Captain Kieran Read was slightly choked up, too.
They're both leaving the All Blacks after the tournament, but it'll be after a third-place game rather than playing for another title at the World Cup. The All Blacks hadn't lost at the World Cup since a quarterfinal loss to France in 2007. That coach team of Graham Henry and his then-assistants, Hansen and Wayne Smith, kept their jobs in the wake of that. And from the adversity they rebuilt a winning combination to regain the title on home soil in 2011.
Hansen took over as head coach and the All Blacks successfully defended the title in 2015 in England. They were two wins from making it three in a row. In the week before the semifinals, England's Australian coach Eddie Jones rated the All Blacks the best team in sports.
The mighty did fall when England ended a six-game losing streak against the All Blacks with a passionate, powerful performance. The end of the 19-7 loss was still fresh when Hansen called home on Saturday night, speaking to his family and to Henry and to former All Blacks center Conrad Smith.
"I rang my wife," he said, pausing, taking a sip of water, "We had a bit of a chat." As for the conversations with Henry and Conrad Smith: that was "about '07." "We mentioned the fact that it's no different. It was a gutting feeling. (Henry) had quite a few comments," Hansen said. "I did a bit of listening. And tried to do some learning. Then you just move on, don't you?"
Hansen had already announced this would be his last World Cup in charge, but it realistically ended a week before he planned. This is unfamiliar territory for the All Blacks since 2003. After that quarterfinal loss to France in '07, they got to go home almost immediately.
But now the All Blacks have to hang around for almost a week to play the loser of Sunday's semifinal between South Africa and Wales. England will meet the winner next Saturday. Having had a night to settle down, Hansen was philosophical on Sunday about the loss, saying he's "still hurting, as you'd expect, and I'm sure the whole country's hurting."
The semifinal loss puts a lot more emphasis on the coaching transition, and pressure on incumbent assistant Ian Foster . Whatever comes next, Hansen is confident the All Blacks will be OK. It's a dynasty built on a team-first attitude, so individual changes won't be the end of it.
"You have to measure your character on how you deal with it," Hansen said, already turning his attention to regrouping for the bronze-medal playoff. "It will be the last week this team is together and we have an opportunity to do it well," he said. "It's another test match, another opportunity for us to be who we are, the All Blacks.
"We don't have a lot of rules in the All Blacks, but we have expectations and we have some non-negotiables — and the No. 1 non-negotiable is team first, individual second. So I'm not even thinking about anything other than what we'll do this week to be able to perform."
Hansen knows from the highs and lows of the World Cup environment what works when it comes to rebuilding. He has started working on it immediately, before handing over the coaching baton. "For the young guys and the old guys there has not been much adversity. For 12 years we have been reasonably successful, game after game. We have lost 10 games out of 104 or 105, which is pretty amazing itself," he said. "But what it does do is take away the guys who have had the pain.
"It's important that we bottle that pain. These young guys will be around for a long, long time because they're super-talented young men, so the experience that they have is in their back pocket."
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