A slew of New Zealand greats will don the All Blacks jersey for the last time in the World Cup final against South Africa and the players left to carry on are determined they will bow out with the trophy, hooker Samisoni Taukei’aho said.
Locks Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick, scrumhalf Aaron Smith and hooker Dane Coles are set to retire from test rugby after the decider, while playmaker Beauden Barrett will head to Japan and may not feature for the All Blacks again.
“There are a few legends of this team, it’s their last week being All Blacks,” Taukei’aho told New Zealand media in Paris.
“I’m sure for them it’s all about what’s best for the team this week. We’ll be trying to send them off the way they deserve, which is with a victory.”
Having signed a contract extension to play in New Zealand until 2027, 26-year-old Taukei’aho will continue on, likely to be a big part of Scott Robertson’s plans when the new coach succeeds All Blacks boss Ian Foster after France.
Taukei’aho’s immediate focus will be on retaining his place in the All Blacks’ matchday squad for Saturday’s final in Paris.
Taukei’aho ran off the bench in the 44-6 defeat of Argentina in the semi-finals, relieving starting hooker Codie Taylor.
Veteran Coles was picked in the reserves to back up Taylor in the tight quarter-final win over Ireland.
Coles, who already has a World Cup gold medal as part of the championship-winning All Blacks in England in 2015, could yet deny Taukei’aho a maiden World Cup final appearance.
However, Taukei’aho had only kind words for the battle-scarred 36-year-old who took him under his wing when he made his first All Blacks squad and helped him make it at the test level.
“It was quite funny this week. At the start, I was a bit emotional. I’m like, ‘Ah, it’s the last week with Grandad’,” he said.
“We’ll leave the reflecting until afterwards. I’m sure we’ll have a few quiet ones and talk about how much he developed me as a player … but not just as a rugby player, but as a human being, too.
“He’s a top man. Whoever gets the nod, we back 100% to get the job done and the job of the person not in the 23 is to prepare them the best they can.
“Nothing changes this week.”