TOKYO — Ben Smith scored two vintage tries, Kieran Read did a power of work and Sonny Bill Williams produced a pair of trademark offloads as three veteran All Blacks went into retirement with a bronze medal to go with their previous Rugby World Cup titles.
Six days after a semifinal loss to England ended New Zealand’s bid for a third straight world championship, the All Blacks beat Wales 40-17 on Friday in the third-place playoff.
No surprises there. The All Blacks hadn’t lost back-to-back tests since 2011, and their last loss to Wales was 66 years ago.
A new champion will be determined Saturday in Yokohama when South Africa and England meet in a rematch of the 2007 final, which the Springboks won 15-6.
On a cool night at Tokyo Stadium, Smith, Read and Williams took cameos to cap their long careers. It was also the last match in charge for both head coaches, with Steve Hansen ending a long tenure at the All Blacks to take a job in Japan and Warren Gatland returning to New Zealand to coach a Super Rugby club after 12 years with Wales.
The swathe of retirements added some luster to a match that usually is one that neither team wants to play, but also one that neither team wants to lose.
Playing his 127th and final test, Read topped the tackle count with 21, made some strong carries and enjoyed some extra space on the fringes to play the ball.
“I’ve tried to really make sure I stay in the moment,” said the All Blacks captain, who led the pre-match haka and later celebrated with family on the field. “In terms of this World Cup, it’s going to take time to get over. But (eventually), I’ll come back with some fond memories.”
New Zealand opened the scoring in the fifth minute when Joe Moody strode 20 meters before sliding over for a rare front-rower’s try. It was set up by an offload from Read to Brodie Retallick, who made good ground before delivering a clever, back-handed flick pass to his prop.
Beauden Barrett’s try made it 14-0 after 14 minutes but Wales responded with some enterprising rugby, a contrast to the grinding performance the Six Nations champions delivered in the 19-16 semifinal loss to South Africa last weekend.
And after twice taking the attacking option to kick for touch instead of a penalty goal, the Welsh were rewarded with a try when fullback Hallam Amos crossed in the 19th minute.
Rhys Patchell converted the try and added a penalty goal in the 27th to reduce the margin to four points, but the All Blacks pulled away with Ben Smith’s two tries before halftime.
The 33-year-old utility, playing his final test on the right wing, opened with a classic veteran’s try. He chimed into the backline from the blind, running right to left, stopped, propped inside a defender and stepped back the other way before twisting over the line in a 20-meter solo effort.
He added a second after the whistle went for halftime, using a perfectly-planted palm to Tomos Williams’ face and race over inside the right corner post.
It was 28-10 at halftime and the All Blacks made it a 25-point difference two minutes after the break when Ryan Crotty scored after taking a brilliant offload from Sonny Bill Williams.
Six minutes later, another Williams unload sent Smith on the path to what appeared to be his third try, but it was disallowed by the Television Match Official.
When he left the field in the 56th minute, Williams smiled, waved and took a small bow to the crowd — his last act after his 19th and final World Cup match.
Welsh winger Josh Adams scored a consolation try on the hour from close range, taking his tournament tally to seven, but the All Blacks capped it when flyhalf Richie Mo’unga scored five minutes from the end to bring his tally to 15 points for the match.
Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones said his team approached the game with the mentality of making it a spectacle.
“We really had nothing to lose and we wanted to throw the ball about and show intentions to go out with a bang,” Jones said. “There is obviously a game tomorrow but we wanted to make this one memorable for our fans that traveled out today but unfortunately we came out on the wrong side of the scoreboard.”