England produced one of their greatest performances to end New Zealand’s bid for a third successive World Cup as they totally outplayed the defending champions in an epic semi-final to win 19-7 on Saturday. England dominated from first to last, looked sharper, faster, stronger and more disciplined in attack and fearsome in defence against a team who had not lost a World Cup match since the 2007 quarter-finals but who barely threatened all night.
The victory swept England into their fourth final and first since 2007, where they will seek their second victory after 2003 when they became the first, and still only, northern hemisphere country to triumph.
England scored after 90 seconds through centre Manu Tuilagi and built their lead through the brilliant goalkicking of recalled flyhalf George Ford. New Zealand, who had won 15 of the teams’ last 16 meetings, barely threatened and managed only a gift of a try by flanker Ardie Savea. After showing their intent not to buy into the ‘All Black aura’ by defying the officials and lining up against the Haka in a V formation, England backed it up once the whistle had sounded, scoring a brilliant try through Tuilagi in the second minute after a sustained, high-paced assault that swept the width of the pitch.
That set the template for the half, with the dual playmakers Owen Farrell and Ford full of speed and invention. The All Blacks, who barely ventured into England’s 22, would have been relieved to have reached halftime only 10-0 down after Ford popped over a late penalty and a Sam Underhill try was ruled out by the TMO. The only previous time New Zealand had failed to score in the first half of a World Cup match was when they were beaten by Australia in the 1991 semis.
A year ago they had come back from 15-0 down at Twickenham to triumph 16-15 but this time there was to be no recovery.
England piled on the pressure right from the start of the second half, but suffered another TMO setback when Ben Youngs’s try was ruled out for a knock on after six minutes.
A Ford penalty made it 13-0 as New Zealand continued to make rare mistakes but they were gifted a way back into the game when, for the first time, England’s lineout went wrong and Jamie George threw the ball straight into the arms of Savea, who fell over the line.
England hit back immediately though, after a huge hit on Jordie Barrett by Sam Underhill forced a knock-on and from the subsequent attack New Zealand offended on their line again and Ford landed it to make it 16-7.
Ford, taking the kicking duties after Farrell had been hit hard in the first half, added another to give England breathing space and, led by the extraordinary Maro Itoje, they continued to tackle with all they had as the All Blacks became desperate but ran out of time.