Ben Smith marked his swansong with a double as New Zealand ended the Steve Hansen era by hammering Wales 40-17 in an entertaining Rugby World Cup third-place play-off.
The All Blacks had been licking their wounds since England shattered their bid to lift the Webb Ellis Cup for an unprecedented third successive time last weekend and responded like champions at Tokyo Stadium on Friday.
Smith, recalled for one final Test before joining Top 14 side Pau, touched down twice in a frantic first half following scores from Joe Moody and Beauden Barrett as the All Blacks turned on the style.
Ryan Crotty, also donning the famous jersey for the last time along with legendary captain Kieran Read, crossed following the interval after the lively Smith had a third ruled out.
Richie Mo’unga claimed New Zealand’s sixth try of the night late on to take his points tally to 13 and Read was inspirational in his farewell Test as the two-time defending champions fittingly finished Hansen’s glorious reign with a victory
— Rugby World Cup (@rugbyworldcup) November 1, 2019
Hallam Amos crossed in the first half and Josh Adams took his tournament-leading try-scoring tally to seven, but the clinical All Blacks sealed a 31rd win in a row over injury-hit Wales in Warren Gatland’s last game in charge.
The holders had no answer to a blistering start from England last weekend, but they began on the front foot six days later and Moody took a one-handed pass from a charging Brodie Retallick to go over five minutes in.
Barrett sprinted under the posts all too easily after Aaron Smith’s no-look pass left a sluggish Wales defence flat-footed and Mo’unga – who missed an early penalty – converted for the second time.
Wales clicked into a gear and Amos showed a sharp turn of foot to finish superbly after a sustained spell of pressure and a Rhys Patchell penalty reduced the deficit to four points.
The Grand Slam winners continued to look vulnerable at the other end, though, and Ben Smith burst down the middle and somehow evaded three tackles and dot down.
The 33-year-old flyer finished clinically again on the stroke of half-time after taking an exceptional whipped pass from his mercurial namesake Aaron, Mo’unga adding the extras expertly from the touchline.
Sonny Bill Williams, also playing what is expected to be his last match for his country, set up the onrushing Crotty for a fifth All Blacks try after Ben Smith was denied a hat-trick due to a knock-on.
The lively Adams dived over from close range at the other end after captain Alun Wyn Jones came off to a standing ovation in what is almost certainly his final World Cup appearance.
New Zealand were not at their fluent best in the second half, but Mo’unga had the final say by crashing over four minutes from time to round off an emphatic win.
FITTING FAREWELL FOR RETIRING ALL BLACKS
There was plenty of emotion on a night with several All Blacks ending their Test careers and Hansen’s tenure coming to an end.
It proved to be a fitting farewell for wing Ben Smith, who lost his place in the side but showed his class in only his fourth match of the tournament.
Read, set to ply his trade with Toyota Verblitz, was also magnificent, while Williams and Crotty also made big impacts.
Cutest moment of #RWC2019 found
— All Blacks (@AllBlacks) November 1, 2019
BITTERSWEET FOR CLINICAL ADAMS
There was no medal for Wales, but Adams was able to increase his try-scoring tally in what has been an outstanding tournament for the wing.
He fell just one short of the record tally of eight tries in a single World Cup, scoring seven in as many matches. South Africa’s Makazole Mapimpi and Japan’s Kotaro Matsushima share second place with five apiece.
KEY OPTA FACTS
– New Zealand’s run of 31 consecutive wins over Wales is the longest sequence of victories any side has achieved over a tier one nation.
– The 57 points scored in the match was the most in a third-place play-off, the previous highest coming in the All Blacks’ 40-13 win over France in 2003.
– Ben Smith’s disallowed try meant this is the first World Cup without an All Blacks hat-trick.
– The All Blacks finished the tournament with a 100 per cent scrum success rate from their own feed, winning all 39.
New Zealand’s inquest into their failure to make history will be stepped up along with the hunt for Hansen’s successor, while Wales start a new era under Wayne Pivac.
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