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How a samurai sword and a kiwifruit inspired England's WC semi-final win in 2019

By PA
Kyle Sinckler puts in a hard tackle on Brodie Retallick. Photo by Anne-Christine POUJOULAT / AFP) (Photo by ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT/AFP via Getty Images

Kyle Sinckler has revealed the role played by an unorthodox team meeting involving a samurai sword and kiwi fruit in one of the greatest results in English rugby history.

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Sinckler is braced for “big boy” rugby when New Zealand visit Twickenham as Eddie Jones’ men enter the business end of an autumn that concludes against world champions South Africa a week later.

Underpinning the conviction that the All Blacks can be toppled on Saturday is the emphatic 19-7 victory in Yokohama when the rivals last met in the semi-finals of the World Cup three years ago.

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England were unstoppable with the final score failing to reflect their dominance and Sinckler, the outstanding Bristol prop who was a starter that day, insists the foundations for the performance were laid a week earlier.

Addressing his squad, Jones used an authentic Japanese samurai bought from an antique shop to slice a kiwi fruit in half before declaring “there you go boys, see how we do it now?”. The stunt had the desired impact.

“We played Australia in the quarter final in Oita – I scored a try – and then we had a team meeting on the Sunday which is very strange. Normally Sunday is a day off, we do recovery and you never really see Eddie,” Sinckler said.

“But he called a players’ meeting at 9am. Everyone was like ‘what’s happened here? Has anyone done anything!?’ And he set the tone for the week.

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“I’ll never forget that meeting in terms of how we set the week up with our game plan – talking about putting pressure on them, going at them, walking towards the danger.

“It was a surreal experience as we had no doubt after that meeting we were going to win and it was the only game in my rugby career where everything went to plan.

“Literally everything Eddie said would happen, happened. Usually on a Sunday you wake up going ‘how am I going to do this again?’, but after that meeting I felt ‘we’ve got this’. It was so special.”

England set the tone for a momentous victory by audaciously confronting the Haka with a V-shape that had Owen Farrell at its apex instead of the customary straight line of players strung out across the centre of the pitch.

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It was a captivating moment of sporting theatre, but brought with it an additional layer of pressure.

Sinckler said: “How many times have we seen opponents walk towards the Haka and New Zealand put 50 points on them? We felt if we were going to do that we needed to back it up. We had better play well!”

Fixtures between the nations have scarcity value as they have met only twice since 2014 and while Sinckler started both of those games, he also made three replacement appearances against the All Blacks for the Lions in 2017.

Over the course of the five matches he came to appreciate an underrated aspect of New Zealand’s game.

“What’s interesting about them is that when people watch the All Blacks, they say ‘great play, loads of offloads, great running game with Reiko Ioane, Caleb Clarke, Beauden Barrett, Richie Mo’unga’,” the Bristol tighthead said.

“They’re great ball in hand players, but they’re also unbelievably physical – really good scrum, great set-piece. Put your head in a breakdown and they’re absolutely clearing you out.

“That was the biggest surprise for me when I first played New Zealand – I thought ‘these guys are really physical’.

“If they need to play wide, they can. If they need to play through and use their set-piece, they can.

“That was a real eye-opener for me. They can do the flashy stuff but the nuts and bolts of their game are also very impressive.”

 

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