England keep their feet on the ground and their eyes on the prize
With All Blacks beaten, Eddie Jones knows they have to hit heights one more time
England’s Manu Tuilagi scores a try against New Zealand during the Rugby World Cup semi-final at International Stadium Yokohama on Saturday. Photograph: Eugene Hoshiko/AP
England 19 New Zealand 7
Rarely has an All Blacks team been so thoroughly outplayed, least of all in a World Cup match; but, then again, rarely has an England team played so well in one either.
Executing Eddie Jones’s masterplan almost to the letter, England won the kicking duel and the territory, had the better set-piece and – with their blend of direct runners, offloading and width – the more potent attacking game, and also enveloped the All Blacks’ brilliant attacking game with their defence.
Pushing up hard, always keeping the right distance between each other, they were like a white wall in the All Blacks’ faces. Every time Richie Mo’unga looked wide he saw Manu Tuilagi cutting off the outside channels, forcing him back inside. Ditto Beauden Barrett, who tried everything, and the All Blacks made 21 offloads and 32 defenders beaten, but all the while England’s defensive effort was given fresh energy by the big hits of the mighty Maro Itoje and the kamikaze twins, Sam Underhill and Tom Curry. One of Underhill’s many big hits, on Jordan Barrett, proved the final decisive play of the match, and he must be the biggest yet cleanest tackler in this tournament.
The problem for England will be scaling those heights again.
Speaking in the wake of England’s comprehensive and compelling 19-7 beating of the All Blacks, Eddie Jones downplayed both the scale of the week ahead and the performance.
“It’s just another week, mate. The players are at the end of seven weeks so recovery is so important – physical and mental. The mindset you create during the week is very important. And it’s about not inventing shadows. Everywhere you look, there are shadows, so you have to make sure you are looking at the right shadows.”
Degree of normality
Achieving a degree of normality will be difficult, Jones admitted, given the hype which has accompanied England in the wake of Saturday’s performance and will continue for the week.
“It won’t be normal because you have this [gestures to all media] and you’ll have people on the street patting you on the back and telling you how good you’ve been. I’m sure the newspapers will be full of praise so you’ve got to work hard to keep yourself focused.”
But it was England’s defensive stranglehold which pleased Jones the most.
“Just our defence consistency. The ball-in-play time was about 35 minutes and the possession was probably evenly shared. Our consistency in doing the simple things well was absolutely outstanding.”
We’re going to have to find another level and it’s definitely there. Definitely there. Definitely there
Nor was he concerned that England’s 10-0 interval lead was sufficient reward for their supremacy.
“No, we had another level in us and we knew that. We knew we could go again. I thought we were excellent in the first 10 minutes in the second half.”
The question now is whether England have another level for the final, but Jones is sure his team does.
“We’re going to have to find another level and it’s definitely there. Definitely there. Definitely there.’
Owen Farrell looked unlikely to make it to half-time, never mind full-time, after suffering what Jones described as a “corker” (bang to the thigh), but the coach quipped: “I think you would have needed a samurai sword to get him off!”
“Outstanding,” said Jones of his captain’s leadership. “He wasn’t at his best but the way he managed the team. That second half becomes a leadership challenge and he got the boys focused, got us back on track and got us doing the simple things well. He understood where we could get an advantage and he did that brilliantly.
“They [Farrell and George Ford] defended well but next week is another situation. We’ll look at how we need to play and what the opposition are going to bring to the party, and then we’ll decide on selection.”
Asked on Sunday if it was hard to stomach losing to such a superior team on the day, Steve Hansen bridled and said: “I don’t know if it was so much better. There’s small margins when you get two teams like that. Is it hard to stomach? Of course it is. It’s gut-wrenching because we wanted to win the thing, but so did they. Life’s not fair, so when would sport be fair? You don’t always get the thing you want. And when you don’t you’ve got to measure your character on how you deal with that.”
Scoring sequence: 2 mins Tuilagi try, Ford con 7-0; 40 mins Ford pen 10-0; (half-time 10-0); 50 mins Ford pen 13-0; 57 mins Savea try, Mo’unga con 13-7; 63 mins Ford pen 16-7; 67 mins Ford pen 19-7.
ENGLAND: Elliot Daly; Anthony Watson, Manu Tuilagi, Owen Farrell (capt), Jonny May; George Ford, Ben Youngs, Mako Vunipola, Jamie George, Kyle Sinckler, Maro Itoje, Courtney Lawes, Tom Curry, Sam Underhill, Billy Vunipola. Replacements: Henry Slade for May (45 mins), Dan Cole for Sinckler (48 mins), George Kruis for Lawes (55 mins), Willi Heinz for Youngs (63 mins), Luke Cowan-Dickie for George, Joe Marler for M Vunipola, Mark Wilson for Underhill (all 70 mins), Jonathan Joseph for Tuilagi (74 mins).
NEW ZEALAND: Beauden Barrett, Sevu Reece, Jack Goodhue, Anton Lienert-Brown, George Bridge; Richie Mo’unga, Aaron Smith; Joe Moody, Codie Taylor, Nepo Laulala, Brodie Retallick, Sam Whitelock, Scott Barrett, Ardie Savea, Kieran Read (captain). Replacements: Sam Cane for S Barrett (half-time), Dane Coles for Taylor, Jordie Barrett for Bridge (both 50 mins), Angus Ta’avao for Laulala, TJ Perenara for Smith, Sonny Bill Williams for Goodhue (all 55 mins), Ofa Tu’ungafasi for Moody (63 mins), Patrick Tuipulotu for Whitelock (67 mins).
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales).