Veteran All Blacks hooker Dane Coles has revealed the emotional anguish the team have had to deal with since their crushing semifinal exit from the Rugby World Cup.
The back-to-back champions were crushed 19-7 by a dominant England side in Yokohama on Saturday, ending their charge at a historic three-peat and forcing the All Blacks into the ignominy of a bronze medal playoff match against Wales on Friday.
Coles, who started the semifinal on the bench, has been given a start in the bronze match in Tokyo – in one of eight changes to the starting XV.
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Asked on Wednesday whether his family's support has made the week easier, Coles couldn't fight back the tears.
"It's been good. Sorry, lads. Yeah, it's been real good having my family here. The biggest thing for me has just been the life experiences for them. I never went overseas til I was about 15 and my kids have been able to come up and go to Disneyland. My parents got to come," an emotional Coles said.
"Sorry, I didn't mean to cry. Obviously the result [against England] has been crap but it's been good to share that experience with my boys.
"And it's been awesome to have my Mum and Dad here. They're just normal people from Kapiti who got to go to Japan and watch their son in the World Cup so it's been cool to share that experience."
Coles said while every player responded to the disappointment in their own way this week, they were all "gutted" – especially as it will be the last tournament for several stalwarts including captain Kieran Read, Ben Smith, Sonny Bill Williams and Ryan Crotty.
"The guys that are leaving – Reado [Read], Bender [Smith], Sonny Bill, Crotts [Crotty]…little things like that have perked me up. I'll deal with my personal issues when I get back home, after the loss," he said.
For Coles, deliberately starting a scuffle with teammate Brodie Retallick in training was part of the tactic to get the players' minds off the defeat.
"We're out in training trying to bring the energy, a bit of niggle with Guzzler [Retallick] yesterday in the team run – a bit of harmless fun.
"Little things like that, because it is pretty tough mate – just any little thing to get a smile on the boys' face and take our mind off what happened is all we can do."