England are through to the Rugby World Cup final after beating New Zealand 19-7 in an incredible match in Yokohama.
A huge defensive effort from Eddie Jones’ side prevented the world champions winning three World Cups in a row and they will now meet either Wales or South Africa in next week’s final.
Through a combination of the world champions’ poor discipline and hugely aggressive breakdown play from England’s back row, New Zealand struggled for any consistent passages of play and England fully deserved their victory after dominating a thrilling encounter.
Both sides made one change to their lineups from quarter-final wins. Eddie Jones reverting back to a 10-12 axis of George Ford and Owen Farrell, with Henry Slade dropping to the bench, while Steve Hansen added the bulk of Scott Barrett to the back row, with Sam Cane making way.
England exploded out of the blocks. Going through the hands from one side of the pitch to the other and back again, they scored early under the posts through Manu Tuilagi. At various stages throughout the move Elliot Daly, Jamie George and Anthony Watson made significant breaks, with Kyle Sinkler showing soft hands, also. The conversion for Owen Farrell was straightforward and within three minutes England were seven points to the good.
As the game progressed, Eddie Jones’ men continued to dominate possession in the opening 10 minutes and made another break when Tuilagi intercepted a Beauden Barrett pass in midfield. He slipped in Jonny May but the covering Scott Barrett and Brodie Retallick were enough to force a knock on and nullify the move.
Every time England got width in their play the All Blacks seemed to struggle with their defensive positioning but three times England coughed up the ball through knock ons or trying to force the final pass to keep the game in the balance.
A quarter of the way through the game, and in a tense opening, New Zealand had barely had a sniff of a chance, but there was a sense that they were always ready to pounce. The fact that England had forced them to kick so often limited the opportunities that they had.
New Zealand nearly went further behind when Sam Underhill went under the posts. Although referee Nigel Owens initially gave the try, after a TMO review Tom Curry was deemed to have crossed over in the buildup and block Sam Whitelock’s tackle.
While New Zealand looked immediately comfortable in broken play, their lineout struggled, with Maro Itoje stealing two of them in the first half. Unlike their quarter-final against Australia, England had over 60% possession in the first half but should have had a greater lead.
Going into half time the turnover count was 8-3 in England’s favour. And with their final one of the half, George Ford knocked over a penalty from 40 metres to make it 10-0. It was only the second time New Zealand had failed to score a point in the first half of a World Cup game, the first being the 1991 semi-final against Australia when they trailed 13-0.
Losing the breakdown battle led to a change for the All Blacks at the interval, as Hansen brought on Sam Cane for Scott Barett to revert to the team most people expected would start.
England wasted another opportunity at their first attempt of the half. After winning a penalty on the halfway line, they opted to kick for sticks but Elliot Daly’s attempt sneaked wide.
Just as in the first half, England then had a try disallowed. Ben Youngs darted in off the the back of a scrum, but the ball had moved forward in the preceding maul meaning that the end result was a scrum for the All Blacks. Only a matter of minutes later England did manage to add to their lead with a Ford penalty from 20 metres out.
In the end, it was England that let the Kiwis back in, rather than being carved up. With a lineout on their own five metre line Itoje’s jump was late and the ball sailed over straight into the grateful arms of Ardie Savea, who went through and dotted down. It was just their visit into England’s 22.
England responded immediately, with a huge hit from Underhill that caused a knock on and yet another turn over. Although they couldn’t get Daly in in the corner, they won a penalty and Ford restored the lead to nine.
As the All Blacks discipline continued to go wandering, the penalties racked up and England were allowed to exit in their own half and add to their score when further up the field. Ford added three more points to make the score 19-7 with 10 minutes to play, but it was England’s flankers and Itoje who were constantly causing problems with huge hits and ferocious play at the breakdown. When Mark Wilson came on it was more of the same.
In truth, England controlled the game from start to finish and limited New Zealand to very little. The better team won on the night are now one week from matching the feat of their 2003 counterparts.
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