Sean Fitzpatrick says he feels sorry for Kieran Read as he prepares to end his New Zealand career in a bronze match rather than chasing a third straight Rugby World Cup title.
All Blacks captain Read looked to be leading his side towards another World Cup triumph until the two-time defending champions met a determined England outfit in the semi-finals.
New Zealand were beaten comfortably by Eddie Jones’ inspired team and Read, who previously announced his decision to retire after the tournament, is now bowing out against Wales in a third-place play-off.
Former All Black Fitzpatrick wished the 34-year-old had been able to enjoy a more fitting send-off but insisted he could still only be considered a true great.
“He’s been an outstanding All Black captain, a phenomenal player, one of the great number eights in world rugby for many, many years,” Fitzpatrick said, speaking courtesy of Laureus.
“He’s had a long career. It’s his third World Cup. I feel sorry for him that he finished on that note, but he’s got another opportunity hopefully this week against Wales.
“He’s one of the greats. He loves the All Black jersey and plays with a real passion. I wish him well with whatever he does. He’ll go down as one of our great All Blacks.”
“I got back to the hotel room and there were birthday cards from my kids.”
How awesome is this! pic.twitter.com/YFGtiwqpRL
— All Blacks (@AllBlacks) October 28, 2019
Coach Steve Hansen will also depart after Friday’s meeting with Wales, but Fitzpatrick hopes his staff – including assistant and potential replacement Ian Foster – will not pay the price for the England defeat.
Fitzpatrick believes coaches such as Foster have proven their worth regardless of a one-off loss.
“They’ll go through a process [to appoint a coach],” Fitzpatrick said. “They’ve got people in line obviously already – I’d imagine they’ve done quite a bit of work on that.
“I don’t think the game on Saturday would be a defining factor in saying, if it was going to be [an appointment] from within, we must change that. I don’t agree with that.
“Because this group of coaches that are staying on after Hansen goes have done a brilliant job. I’m so proud as a past All Black. The past four-year cycle, they couldn’t have done any more.
“They just came up against a team that dominated. I don’t think that should have a real bearing on who the next All Blacks coach is.”
Fitzpatrick now hopes the pain of losing to England can serve New Zealand well going forward.
“Everyone in that team hasn’t experienced that feeling, so it’s a big change,” he added. “They’ll learn from that.
“With how commanding the defeat was to England, although it’s not easy to accept, they were better than us. We’ve got to take it on the chin and move on. We were outplayed and they [the players] know that.
“The way we did it yesterday is not enough to win tomorrow – that’s been our philosophy all the way along as All Blacks. Prepare as if you’re number two, never think you’re good enough. At the moment, we’re not number one.”
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