When the final whistle sounded in the All Blacks' 40-17 decimation of Wales for third place at the 2019 Rugby World Cup, it ended more than the game.

With it, the curtain came down the All Blacks careers of Kieran Read, Ben Smith, Ryan Crotty, Sonny Bill Williams, Matt Todd and coach Steve Hansen.

ANZ Sports Scene: Steve Hansen's final press conference as All Blacks head coach. Video / Mark Mitchell

It's a group that have spent plenty of time together since Hansen took over from Graham Henry in 2012 after working as an assistant coach with the team from 2004-2011. Through seven years at the helm, Hansen led the All Blacks to several Rugby Championships, maintained the Bledisloe Cup throughout that time and won a Rugby World Cup in 2015.

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So when the moment came at the final whistle and Hansen was asked how it has been for him to be a part of the All Blacks environment over the years, with tears in his eyes, he forced out three words.

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"Just a privilege."

Hansen's response was preceded by about 20 seconds of uproarious cheering from the 50,000-strong crowd in Tokyo, at which the All Blacks head coach could do nothing but stand and reciprocate the applause.

Hansen led the All Blacks to 93 wins from 107 tests, with just 10 losses in his seven-year reign.

The team's domination of the sport for the best part of the last decade saw Hansen named World Rugby's Coach of the Year four times and the All Blacks named World Rugby's Team of the Year six times.

An emotional Steve Hansen signed off as All Blacks coach. Photo / Spark Sport
An emotional Steve Hansen signed off as All Blacks coach. Photo / Spark Sport

"It was important we came back and honoured the jersey and our fans, and to get over the disappointment of last week," Hansen said after the win over Wales.

While it wasn't the triumphant send-off for Hansen and the departing players in the sense that they were probably hoping for, the All Blacks played with freedom and put on a vintage performance reflective of how the team has played under Hansen.

"We played pretty good footy all the way through," Hansen said. "One bad day, you lose a game and you miss out; that's what knockout football is about, but I was really proud of the boys today."

Read was also interviewed post-match and was asked what it means to him to be in the All Blacks jersey.

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Holding the emotion back, Read said: "This jersey means a lot," he said. "It's been part of my life for a long time. For me, it dictates that you try and leave it in a better place than you found it. That was my aim for my entire career and hopefully, I've done that."