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'People walking down the street bring it up': The All Blacks can't escape the 2019 semi-final

By Ned Lester
Sam Whitelock and Courtney Lawes contest the line out in the 2019 Rugby World Cup semi-final. Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images

Acting All Blacks captain, Sam Whitelock has admitted the external talk around his side’s 2019 semi-final rematch with England has been impossible to avoid but remains resolute the internal noise has been minimal but productive.

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The 142-cap-All Black is lining up for his sixth Twickenham test in his 12-year tenure with the All Blacks and expressed nothing but excitement to be returning to “the home of rugby”, summarising his anticipation with a typically understated remark: “24 hours out, can’t wait”.

The top-trending narrative around the match is undeniably how the two sides have not met since the 2019 Rugby World Cup semi-final, in which England eliminated the All Blacks’ title hopes in a powerful display of intent and physicality.

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“Yeah, it’s there, it’s in history,” Whitelock said of the match. “We’ve had a few people walking down the street bring it up as well.

“We’re aware of it but at the same time, this group’s changed a lot since then, a lot of people and personnel have changed, a lot of structures and that’s just us and then you also look at them.

“We’re looking forward to getting out there, we haven’t played them since ’19 so I can’t wait to get out there.”

The Covid-19 pandemic deprived the rugby community of an earlier rematch and Whitelock noted the match now only served as motivation for the players who didn’t suffer the defeat in Japan.

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“For a lot of the guys that were there, they know what it’s like playing against England in a big game and this is one of those big games so I wouldn’t say it’s the front of my mind personally, but definitely aware of what it’s like playing England here at the home of rugby at Twickenham.”

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The 2019 match denied the All Blacks a shot at a World Cup three-peat and would eventually lead to South Africa lifting the Webb Ellis Cup.

While that tournament was three years ago now and much has changed, Whitelock acknowledged there were learnings to take out of the match.

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“There’s always things you look at, England started really well and they just squeezed us out of the game and they did that really well, so that’s something that we’re aware of this week.

England started the 2019 showdown by forming a V formation in response to the haka and Eddie Jones’ recent remarks imply the English may have another plan for accepting the All Blacks’ iconic challenge.

“If they do that it’s obviously up to them,” Whitelock said of the rumours.

“It just shows that they’re accepting the challenge and you know, they can do what they want.

“For us, we’ve always done the Haka for ourselves, reconnecting with the people that have gone before us and also the people standing beside, in front of us. So that’s why we do it.

“If they feel like that’s going to help them, well good on them.

“I can’t say I’ve thought about it too much so we’ll just wait and see if it happens.

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