TOKYO, Japan, Oct 28 – New Zealand icon Sonny Bill Williams said Monday that the All Blacks players needed “bulletproof vests” during a brutal analysis of their devastating 19-7 World Cup semi-final defeat by England.
The treble-chasing All Blacks suffered only their second loss in 17 games against the English, who also snapped New Zealand’s remarkable 18-match unbeaten run in the competition, one which had dated back to 2007.
Williams, who has two winner’s medals, revealed that combing through the wreckage of Saturday’s upset by a pumped-up England in Yokohama had stung and that the coaching staff had pulled no punches in a grim post-mortem.
“We went through the review this morning and some of the boys had their bulletproof vests on,” said the hulking centre, set to bow out as an All Black after this week’s third-place playoff with Wales.
“Now we’ve just got to get on with it.
“It was a little more stressful yesterday with my little one,” added Williams, noting the effect a rare New Zealand failure had on his children. “Didn’t sleep well, she was out of whack.”
New Zealand, who had not lost at the World Cup since France stunned them in the 2007 quarter-finals, face Wales in Tokyo on Friday after the Six Nations champions were beaten 19-16 by South Africa on Sunday.
It is a match that nobody really wants to play — but Williams insisted it could prove cathartic for the wounded All Blacks.
“It was a tough night, but there were some lessons,” said the 34-year-old, who has also won a pair of titles in Australia’s National Rugby League and a WBA international heavyweight boxing crown.
“Straight after the game, I didn’t really want to play this week — but five or 10 minutes later I flipped the script and thought how good it would be to get through this, play again next week and put those lessons into practice.”
– Healing process –
With All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen stepping down after seven years, along with captain Kieran Read, it felt like the end of an era for what England boss Eddie Jones described as the “greatest team in sport”.
But assistant coach Ian Foster, tipped to take over from Hansen before their crushing defeat, echoed the sentiments of Williams as he promised this week’s clash with Wales would mark the start of a healing process for the All Blacks.
“It’s a chance to redeem ourselves,” he said. “We have players and management that are hurting and we want to go out and show we’re better than that, and start this process.
“Energy levels might be low with the quick turnaround but there are players jumping out of their skin (to play).”
Williams, meanwhile, called for a candidate with Pacific island or Maori blood to be considered for the All Blacks coaching set-up.
“There are going to be a few guys putting their hands up,” said Williams, who is of Samoan heritage.
“I’d like to see a Pacific Islander or a Maori in the coaching system that would have a bit of influence,” he added.
“There’s a lot of Island boys, a lot of Maori boys playing for the All Blacks — there’s a lot of space there for that growth.”