England’s inspired tactical variation and unrelenting physicality earned them the prize scalp of the All Blacks on an unforgettable night for the World Cup, writes JON CARDINELLI at the Yokohama Stadium.
This was not in the script.
The All Blacks were supposed to beat England and advance to the final. They were supposed to to secure their third-straight World Cup title and give their departing coach Steve Hansen and captain Kieran Read a fairytale send off.
That will not happen. England – bold, brutal and brilliant England – will advance to the final. The All Blacks will, if they have the stomach for it, watch the decider from the comfort of their homes in New Zealand.
One could almost hear the sound of the script being torn up as the teams lined up for the All Blacks’ rendition of the haka. England spaced themselves out in what could be described as a reverse arrow head. A couple of players on the outside of the formation stood inside the All Blacks’ half and patently ignored referee Nigel Owens’ instruction to retreat.
What happened next was beyond unexpected. England – the pragmatic bullies who throttled the Wallabies into submission in the quarter-final last week – proceeded to run at the All Blacks.
The tempo and organisation of their attack was a sight to behold. They powered up the middle and then shifted the ball to the space in the wider channels. Their tight forwards – with Kyle Sinckler featuring prominently – dazzled with the speed and execution of their tip passes and offloads.
Perhaps the defensive effort against Ireland took more out of the All Blacks than most thought. The New Zealand forwards lacked pace as well as power. The selection of lock Scott Barrett at flank was exposed as England murdered the All Blacks at the breakdown.
Weak defenders like Richie Mo’unga were targeted by the England attack and mercilessly exposed. While the execution of the players should be applauded, Eddie Jones and his coaching staff got their tactics spot on.
The All Blacks appeared as surprised as everyone else in the stadium by the sheer audacity of the English. The players on the field ran out of ideas and no change by the coaching team made a difference to the flow of the contest.
The final scoreline flattered the All Blacks. England missed a drop-goal attempt and had a try disallowed during the first stanza. After the break, Elliot Daly pushed a long-range penalty shot wide.
But England stuck to their task. The defence kept the much-vaunted All Blacks attack scoreless for 57 minutes. It took a mistake by England – an overthrow at a lineout on their own tryline – for the All Blacks to make any telling inroads.
The final match stats tell a story of England’s control and dominance. England finished with 62% of the territory. They completed 37 kicks and made a whopping 882 kick metres.
While they had 56% of the possession, they were unbelievable on defence. England forced 15 turnovers in all.
I wrote before the game that it would take something special to stop New Zealand’s march towards a third-straight World Cup title. On Saturday, England delivered a performance for the ages to end the All Blacks’ reign and to turn the tournament on its head.
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