Several New Zealand stars will run out for the last time tonight, but it is not the time to get dewy-eyed and sentimental, insists coach Ian Foster.
He, 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. But in preparing for the Stade de France showdown, they have swept aside any temptation for nostalgic reflection.
“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. 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.
“That was a tough one, probably the toughest I’ve had as a coach,” said Foster on Thursday. “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.
“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.
“I’ve got lots of ideas (about the future) but first I’m going to mow my lawns,” he said.
For Retallick, who has 108 caps, the chance to end his All Blacks career in a World Cup final was the ultimate opportunity.
“It’s awesome,” he said. “You can’t put into words what it’s like being in 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.”