November 1, 2019 / 1:42 PM / 18 days ago

Read still among game's greats after fairytale finish thwarted

TOKYO (Reuters) - Kieran Read’s glittering All Blacks career ultimately did not end with the same fairytale finish as his predecessor Richie McCaw, but the 34-year-old will still go down as one of New Zealand’s greatest players.

Rugby Union - Rugby World Cup - Bronze Final - New Zealand v Wales - Tokyo Stadium, Tokyo, Japan - November 1, 2019 New Zealand's Kieran Read celebrates after receiving a bronze medal REUTERS/Peter Cziborra

Read had hoped to emulate McCaw by leaving New Zealand Rugby on a high, lifting the Webb Ellis trophy as his final act after leading his side to victory in the World Cup final.

Instead the All Blacks number eight had to trudge off the pitch at Tokyo Stadium on Friday, having clinched third place at the 2019 tournament with a 40-17 victory over Wales.

He will now join Japanese club Toyota in the new year on a one-year contract, effectively ending his international career.

Read had said prior to the third-place playoff that he was ready to walk away, having spent 11 years with the side and won 107 of his 127 test matches. He also led the team on 52 occasions, having been groomed to take over from McCaw.

“It has been a great day. I just tried to really make sure that I stayed in the moment and enjoyed it,” Read said as prolonged cheering and chants of “Kieran! Kieran!” reverberated around the crowd.

“I will hold these memories for a long time.”

WORLD’S BEST

A former stand-out cricketer, Read was widely considered to be the best number eight in international rugby, winning the World Player of the Year award in 2013, when his pace allowed him to roam in the wide channels and set up his outside backs.

He was also a brutal defender, with his thundering tackle on Australia fullback Israel Folau in the opening seconds of the 2015 World Cup final setting the tone for the All Blacks in their 34-17 victory.

Read’s game changed over the last two years as the All Blacks struggled to replace pack enforcer Jerome Kaino, with the number eight playing increasingly tighter and closer to the breakdown.

His physical style of play, however, eventually caught up with him, as he suffered concussion and a series of injuries.

Read admitted he found it hard to keep his emotions in check earlier in the week, knowing he would not clinch a third title.

Yet coach Steve Hansen, who is also leaving the All Blacks after 16 years in charge, paid tribute to his captain for the way he had been able to bury those feelings.

“He was hurting probably more than most,” Hansen said.

“But he knew that he had to put his own personal feelings aside and knew that the team had to get up.

“I’m sure there are lots of New Zealanders and All Blacks fans all over the world who will be proud of what we did today.”

Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Toby Davis

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