Margins, rumours and love: The All Blacks return home

4:04 pm on 2 November 2023
Sam Cane and fan at Auckland Airport

Photo: RNZ / Marika Khabazi

The blood had dried, the sweat had been washed off and the tears wiped away. The All Blacks came home yesterday, passing through Auckland airport's international terminal to a small but noisy contingent of fans intent on welcoming them.

Ian Foster, Sam Cane, Ardie Savea, Mark Tele'a and Samuel Whitelock faced the media waiting off to the side of the security gate. Even though it was the end of an era, with Foster now officially the former All Black coach, the status quo was maintained with what was said or implied.

It was, for the most part, well-trodden lines about pride and how far the group had come. That's fair enough, most of what we needed to know about the final was answered in Paris and most of what we need to know about what happens next will be coming from Scott Robertson. But there were a couple of things amongst the cliches that stood out, as well as the general demeanour of the men talking.

"We've sent a file to World Rugby to get them to make a few comments on. I think you can guess [what they are]," Foster said when asked if the game would be reviewed by the outgoing All Black coaching team.

It feels like the cold war that's been raging away behind the scenes regarding the laws, the TMO and the general way the game is going might be about to be given a more public profile.

Questions about Foster's potential link to the now-vacant Wallabies role were greeted with bemusement by the man himself, and brusquely brushed off by his senior players. Savea simply stated he didn't care, while Cane decided to end his stand up then and there when the topic was brought up.

There was something about all of them, though, and it's not at all surprising. It was easy to tell that the way the final had slipped from the All Blacks' grasp will be something they'll all be thinking about for a long time - but really, that's just where it starts.

Had Cane's tackle been a couple of inches lower, or Siya Kolisi's been a split second later, that's the margin between a yellow and a red. Had Beauden Barrett got a clean pass and run the ball closer to the posts the Springboks infringed slightly further upfield, that's an easier shot at goal for Richie Mo'unga and Jordie Barrett.

In fact, you can go further back than that. Had Malcom Marx not got injured, the Springboks wouldn't have been able to bring in Handre Pollard, so wouldn't have been able to rely on his cool head and accurate boot in the quarter and semi-final.

Had Ireland and Scotland's results gone the other way, the All Blacks and Springboks would have met each other in the quarter-final. Or, they might have conspired to see the Boks not have even made it out of their pool.

It's all these little things that could have easily been so slightly different, that culminated in a final that was separated by one point anyway. While New Zealanders are hurting, it's important to realise just how the slightest change in the direction of the wind can affect a World Cup. Just ask the Black Caps.

In the end, it wasn't the homecoming that anyone really expected of the All Blacks. The 'come back with your shield or on it' mentality has been replaced this time with a public reaction both online and in person mostly willing to wrap Cane and his All Blacks in a forgiving embrace. After all, not many of those people thought they'd even be making the final, let alone losing it by the closest margin possible.

It wasn't lost on Cane, who gave an honest appraisal of how he'd taken it:

"The love from New Zealand is something I haven't experienced as an All Black. It's the best I've felt."

Sam Cane back from RWC

Photo: RNZ / Marika Khabazi

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