England's Rugby World Cup masterpiece rips the All Blacks apart

YOKOHAMA, Japan — This was as conclusive a win over the All Blacks as you will ever see.

England shattered New Zealand’s aura and prevented them from barely firing a shot. The eventual 19-7 scoreline Saturday flattered the All Blacks. England were better in every area of the game as they put together their finest performance since 2003 to book a spot in the 2019 Rugby World Cup final.

At the full-time whistle, there were the exhausted hugs as adrenaline peaked and then subsided, but England’s focus was relentless and unwavering, their application and intensity at a level seldom seen in the sport.

It was the highlight of the four-year-long Eddie Jones era, a performance they’d long threatened, but it has never clicked like it did on Saturday in Yokohama. England’s defence only coughed once, while their attack kept the All Blacks hemmed in their own half for much of the game.

Don’t expect them to get carried away, just yet. “[The win] gives us another week, mate,” Jones said afterwards. “We have another week and we’re looking forward to it. We’re going to have to play better next week, whoever we play against.”

After the biggest week of Jones’ England career, now comes an even more important seven days. But for one evening, England put in the performance of a generation. Maro Itoje was named man of the match, but there could have been any number from England as their game plan came together to end the All Blacks’ hopes of a third World Cup on the bounce.

England’s fast start

England have now scored tries in the opening five minutes in nine of their last 18 Tests, and against the All Blacks they exploded out of the traps. Jones has frequently referenced to his team how well New Zealand started the 2015 World Cup final, and his side wasted little time in getting on the front foot in Yokohama.

Manu Tuilagi’s try came after just 98 seconds, and followed up on a haka where England looked to answer the All Blacks’ challenge in kind where they formed a V-shape alignment, almost as if to crowd out the triangle shape that the haka is performed in. “We didn’t want to stand in a flat line and let them come at us,” captain Owen Farrell said. The image of Farrell with a slight smile on his face went viral on social media, but England backed up their challenge with an early punch.

“New Zealand are rugby gods so we had to take it to them,” Jones said. “We wanted to take it to them to show we could take the game to them and put them on the back foot as much as we could.”

The Jones factor

“Judge me on the World Cup” were Eddie Jones’ words when he took the job. “We want to be the best team in the world,” he said, and for the last four years, England’s players have had one date in their mind: Nov. 2, 2019, the day of the Rugby World Cup final. Jones even gave each player a clock ticking down to that date.

He got his selection spot-on for the semifinal; restoring George Ford to fly-half proved to be a masterstroke, as Ford continually kept the All Blacks pinned back in their own half with those laser-guided kicks into the corner. The decision to deploy two opensides in the back-row paid dividends, with Tom Curry and Sam Underhill outstanding — both in the manner in which they hammered into the All Blacks’ in the tackle area, but also causing all sorts of mischief at the breakdown. The greatest compliment from the All Blacks was that they brought on Sam Cane at halftime for Scott Barrett; it was coach Steve Hansen admitting he had been put on the back-foot by Jones’ team selection and game plan.

But selection and game plan aside, Jones has managed this week superbly. He kept the pressure off his own players, created a narrative of pressure being on the opposition, and behind closed doors ensured the squad had no distractions and were focused solely on the task in hand. It will be more of the same this week, to ensure England haven’t played their final a match too soon.

Suffocating the All Blacks’ game

All Blacks skipper Kieran Read cut a disconsolate figure at full time, his eye bleeding and carrying that stare of a man who has just suffered sporting heartbreak. Post-match he lamented how England starved the All Blacks of quick-ball, and effectively blocked the New Zealand game plan at source. It was jarring to see a New Zealand team prevented from attacking — they only fired shots sporadically and were gifted their try when Jamie George’s throw at a lineout missed Maro Itoje and flew straight to Ardie Savea for an easy score.

George Bridge, the All Blacks wing, was anonymous, while Sevu Reece on the opposite flank was prevented from getting a head of steam as England were quick to nullify his threat. But equally, they got into Richie Mo’unga and Aaron Smith and they never managed to get going. They also nullified the power of the All Blacks’ rolling maul, with Itoje superb there — he won a remarkable three turnovers, with England making 16 overall.

The forwards managed the breakdown superbly with Underhill and Curry supreme. Curry was always first in the kick chase — his engine is ridiculous — while Underhill vaporising Read was an incredible show of strength and technique.

“We wanted to make them play from deep, which we did because we were able to get on the front foot around the ruck, which created opportunities to either run or kick,” Jones said. “Our kick chase was fantastic, really good.

“The way you attack their defence line is how you manage the breakdown situation, so it’s due to the attitude of the players, which is a reflection of their coaches [Steve Borthwick and Neal Hatley].”

Owen Farrell’s leadership

England never panicked, not even when they gifted the All Blacks seven points at the start of the second half. Farrell’s leadership and the values instilled in the team over the past four years was integral here. The team knew the plan, trusted in the process and in themselves. Farrell took a battering from the All Blacks. Twice he was floored, once after injuring his leg and on another occasion following a cheap shot from Sam Whitelock. But he played through the pain barrier and personified the never-say-die attitude in this team.

“Owen and the leaders on the field were exceptional today,” Jones said. “They kept the team disciplined, stuck to the game plan, kept attacking where we thought New Zealand were weak and didn’t divert from there.”


It was a remarkable performance from the team now ranked number one in the World Rugby rankings. But there were no celebrations from Jones at full time. A “well done” for his fellow backroom staff, but England know the job isn’t yet complete. Only if they win the World Cup will this remarkable victory stand the test of time. It needs to be part of the narrative, not the start of the denouement. Jones knows that better than most, having coached teams in two World Cup finals, as head coach of Australia in 2003 (they lost, to England) and in South Africa’s backroom staff in 2007 (they won, against England).

Now with England, Jones and his men orchestrated a performance to topple the best side in the world. Next Saturday, they will get a chance to be recognised as the best side themselves.

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