By Patrick McKendry in Tokyo
Richie Mo'unga, the little All Blacks playmaker who feels his rugby education has benefited hugely from experiencing the lows and highs of this World Cup, says a highlight of the win over Wales was watching Ben Smith play so well on the right wing in his final test.
Smith scored two tries at the end of the first half of the 40-17 victory at Tokyo Stadium, and should have had a third after the break but for referee Wayne Barnes' discovery of a debatable forward pass from Rieko Ioane.
What made Smith's performance so good for Mo'unga was that it came after few recent opportunities for the 33-year-old veteran. The same applied to midfielder Ryan Crotty, also playing in his final test and a man who has also contributed tirelessly despite a lack of recent chances.
Skipper Kieran Read, midfielder Sonny Bill Williams and flanker Matt Todd were also playing their final tests.
"I really enjoyed seeing Bender go over for his two tries," Mo'unga said of Smith. "I thought he went over for a hat-trick but… I enjoyed seeing Bender and Crotty play the way they did because they haven't been selected over the last couple of weeks.
"I feel it shows a lot in their character to be able to hold their heads high. They haven't been selected in the 23 but they've still given so much to the team. That's what the black jersey is about – putting the team before yourself. They've done that. To see them play like they did tonight, especially Bender with his tries, it was outstanding."
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Smith certainly rolled back the years in his 83rd test. As the ball continued to go his way he rediscovered the running form which has bamboozled opposition defences at this level for a decade. His first try came via a typically mazy run and his second from a beautifully flat pass and brutal fend to the face of Wales halfback Tomos Williams; the latter a planned move from attack coach Ian Foster.
Asked about the fend, Smith was typically understated. "It's always a good feeling when a plan comes off, so, yeah."
But he opened up more on what the game and performance meant for him before he moves with his family to France.
"I owed a lot of the guys I play with to try to do it for them," Smith said. "There are some absolute champions in this team… I wanted to leave on a good note. I'm really going to miss playing alongside them.
"Sometimes it goes your way and I managed to get a bit of ball. I knew my kids were there. A big factor for me is that I know if I get a 'meat pie' they're pretty happy up in the stand so trying to get one of those for them tonight was good."
For Mo'unga, a triple Super Rugby winner with the Crusaders who had a lot more time and space against Wales compared with England at Yokohama Stadium last weekend, the experiences can only help.
"I want to use it to my advantage to further my career as a rugby player," he said. "If I do get to wear the black jersey again I want to use this experience.
"We sent off the likes of Reado and some of the other boys who have done so much for the black jersey, have given their all, sacrificed a lot of their life, been away from family and put their body on the line time and time again, who have done the jersey and New Zealand proud.
"It's a game of footy. It's a game that we enjoy playing because we're good at it and sometimes you lose sight of that because of what's on the line and the intensity of what this occasion is. We're really grateful to be out there with our friends, to be chucking the ball around. To do that on the world stage is awesome. To do it in club footy when you're 10 years old is awesome as well. To be able to bring that fun back really helped us today."