Sport

RWC 2023

Iconic All Blacks prepare to exit stage left, but no time for sentiment

Iconic All Blacks prepare to exit stage left, but no time for sentiment
From left: Sam Whitelock trains at Stade du Parc in Rueil-Malmaison, France, on 24 October 2023 ahead of New Zealand's World Cup final against South Africa. (Photo: David Rogers / Getty Images) | Aaron Smith of the All Blacks runs through drills at Stade du Parc before the final against South Africa. (Photo: Hannah Peters / Getty Images) | Brodie Retallick looks on during the All Blacks' training session at Stade du Parc on 26 October 2023. (Photo: David Rogers / Getty Images)

Several of New Zealand’s greatest players will end their Test careers after the final of Rugby World Cup 2023 as well as coach Ian Foster.

New Zealand will have several star performers running out for the last time when they compete in Saturday’s Rugby World Cup final, but it is not the time to get dewy eyed and sentimental, insists coach Ian Foster.

Foster, along with veterans Dane Coles, Brodie Retallick, Aaron Smith and Sam Whitelock, will mark the end of an era with their final involvement with the All Blacks when they take on South Africa, but in preparing for the Stade de France showdown they have swept aside any temptation for nostalgic reflection.

Sam Whitelock of New Zealand steals lineout ball from Victor Matfield of South Aftrica during the 2015 Rugby World Cup Semi Final match between South Africa and New Zealand at Twickenham Stadium on 24 October 2015 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo: Phil Walter / Getty Images)

“We know that it’s the last game for some pretty iconic players, but quite frankly, we don’t really want to talk too much about that,” Foster said.

“There will be time afterwards for that. Right now, the occasion in front of us is so exciting that we don’t want to waste a day thinking about post-game.”

Retallick and Smith will be going to play in Japan after the World Cup, Whitelock joins Pau in the French Top 14 and the 36-year-old Coles retires.

He was overlooked for selection for a second successive week, with Foster picking Samisoni Taukei’aho as back-up hooker instead. Telling Coles he would not get another chance to play for the All Blacks was hard for the coach.

I’ve got lots of ideas (about the future) but first I’m going to mow my lawns.

“That was a tough one, probably the toughest I’ve had as a coach,” said Foster. “How did he take it? The way I would have expected him to.”

Asked how Smith had been doing in his final week with the team, Foster said of the 124-cap scrumhalf: “He’s been good, he’s preparing to play in a World Cup final and that takes 100% of your attention and care of preparation.

All Blacks

All Black coach Ian Foster gives instructions to Ardie Savea during training at Stade du Parc in Rueil-Malmaison, France, on 24 October 2023. (Photo: Gaspafotos / MB Media / Getty Images)

Coach Ian Foster congratulates Ardie Savea following the team’s World Cup semifinal victory over Argentina at Stade de France in Paris on 20 October 2023. (Photo: David Rogers / Getty Images)

“He’s prepared well, he’s excited … he needs a tap on the head sometimes when he’s too excited… but that just means he’s in a good place.”

Foster himself is headed out of the door, with Scott Robertson named as his successor after the tournament in France.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Rugby World Cup 2023

“I’ve got lots of ideas (about the future) but first I’m going to mow my lawns,” he said.

All Blacks

Brodie Retallick of New Zealand in action during their World Cup match against France at Stade de France in Saint-Denis near Paris on 8 September 2023. (Photo: Jean Catuffe / Getty Images)

For Retallick, who has 108 caps, the chance to end his All Blacks career in a World Cup final was the ultimate.

“It’s awesome,” he said. “You can’t put into words what it’s like being in a World Cup final.

“I was lucky enough to experience it in 2015 and to come here for my last game in the jersey and have the opportunity to go out there and actually win it again… if you want to, you can call it a fairytale ending or whatever… but it definitely beats where we were four years ago when we were playing for third and fourth spot.” Reuters/DM

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