The biggest compliment I can pay to England is that they made New Zealand look one-dimensional on Saturday. The All Blacks possess the best attacking armoury in the world and England made them look like they didn’t really know what to do. The first half in particular from England was the best I have seen from them and I cannot remember a match in which New Zealand have been so comprehensively outgunned.
Later that day Harlequins played Bristol and, of course, all the English boys were giving me a bit, as they should, but from a Kiwi perspective it was easier to take because there was no arguing with the result. I had to take it because England had wiped the All Blacks off the park. There was no area in the game where I could reasonably argue that New Zealand had won. England came out on top in the physical battle, they won the gainline, they won the territorial kicking contest and they won the set piece. The decision to pick Scott Barrett backfired because it felt like New Zealand almost had too many options at the lineout and did not know which way to go. England also had the edge at the scrum and were on top at the breakdown – it was comprehensive.
I felt that the All Blacks needed to make a fast start. They needed to put England under some real pressure in the first 10-15 minutes, score a try, maybe two and force a reaction. But the opposite happened. England’s first-half performance was all about their attack. It was based upon their power with the Vunipolas and Manu Tuilagi getting over the gainline and providing England quick ball. In those opening exchanges how many times did we see Kyle Sinckler tipping the ball on or moving the ball out the back to George Ford? England used the second wave too, which is maybe something they had kept up their sleeve until now. But that speed of ball allowed them to move the point of attack and build a lead.
To be honest, it should have been more of a lead. It was such a complete performance that I was sitting there and thinking that after 30 minutes the All Blacks would have been relieved to be only seven points down. England got in at half‑time 10 points to the good, though, and they just accepted that would be enough and moved to a territorial kicking game. They flooded the breakdown – again Tom Curry and Sam Underhill were outstanding – and England just suffocated New Zealand with their defence.
On countless occasions we saw Tuilagi coming up out of the line, forcing New Zealand back inside. All of a sudden the ball wasn’t sticking, the bounce of the ball wasn’t going their way and support runners just weren’t in the right place at the right time. Whereas we might have seen Ardie Savea make an offload, or Richie Mo’unga do so to Beauden Barrett, it just wasn’t happening and New Zealand found themselves in a situation that they hadn’t been in before this tournament.
England also defended extremely well on the edges and having the raw pace of Jonny May and Anthony Watson makes a big difference. They were able to block off the attackers flooding through in those 15-metre channels and it was not until the last few minutes of the match that New Zealand were able to get around them. Early on they really tried to load up the outside channels with Codie Taylor, Anton Lienert‑Brown and Jack Goodhue but May and Watson did so well to treat the touchline as an extra defender and see off the threat. New Zealand can really hurt you when they make a bit of a dent and get the offload away but I could probably count on one hand the number of times they managed that because England’s adjusting defenders were brilliant at shutting that off.
The million-dollar question is whether England can back it up against South Africa. I’ve said before that it is so difficult to produce a performance like that – which takes so much out of you emotionally – and repeat it a week later. That means that for England this week is all about getting themselves mentally right. They are now favourites for the trophy but I expect Eddie Jones will do everything he can to make out that South Africa should be, and no doubt Rassie Erasmus will do the same.
It would be no surprise to see Eddie make a couple of changes to the side – he may have to anyway because of injuries – but that helps to freshen things up and renew focus. There is a Saracens spine to this side which he will not change but elsewhere there may be one or two. In terms of the blueprint, though, we have seen how they will approach the match. Physically and in terms of the set piece, I expect an even sterner test from South Africa but I do think England will be able to create more opportunities in attack if they can shorten up the Springboks’ defence.
I liked the fact that we did not see too many over-the-top celebrations from the England players at the end of the match against New Zealand. I like to think a part of that was out of respect for the All Blacks but I sense this group of players all appreciate there is still one step to go. Everyone seems on the same wavelength and there is a realisation that the job is not yet done.
For the All Blacks there will be the inevitable inquest, as there was in 2007, and I do wonder about the wisdom of coaches announcing in advance they will leave after the tournament. We’ve seen it with Joe Schmidt, Warren Gatland and Steve Hansen and not one of those has reached the final. If there is one thing I am sure about now their winning run has come to an end, though, it is that New Zealand will be better for it in the long run.
Source link : https://www.theguardian.com/sport/blog/2019/oct/28/england-perfect-semi-final-expect-eddie-jones-tinker-south-africa
Publish date : 2019-10-28 10:00:00