England produced one of their greatest-ever displays to storm into the World Cup final with a 19-7 victory over New Zealand that reduced the reigning champions to a rabble. From the moment Manu Tuilagi crossed after 97 seconds an extraordinary match beckoned and the final scoreline did little justice to the domination of Eddie Jones’ men, who were superior in every single facet of the game.
New Zealand had won their previous 18 World Cup matches dating back to 2007 but at International Stadium Yokohama they were flattened by a juggernaut led by the unstoppable Maro Itoje. England will face either South Africa or Wales in next Saturday’s final and having crushed the odds-on favourites to win the Webb Ellis Trophy, they will be expected to repeat their solitary triumph of 2003.
Everywhere across the pitch they won significant battles, Itoje supported by brilliant flankers Tom Curry and Sam Underhill who carried the fight to feared opponents right from the start. New Zealand’s selection of lock Scott Barrett as an additional lineout jumper at six backfired as they were demolished at the set-piece to the point that Sam Cane, a recognised flanker, was brought on at half-time.
The withdrawal of Barrett was a stark admission by Steve Hansen that his tactics were misjudged but by the time Cane arrived it was too late, the ascendency at the breakdown of Curry and Underhill was complete. It is hard to recall the All Blacks ever being made to look so ordinary as they searched in vain for the inspiration that would save them from disaster and the fightback never came.
Midway through the first-half Owen Farrell began limping and despite being beckoned for an examination by the team doctor, he battled on and even sprinted out for the second half. Having converted Tuilagi’s try, Farrell’s only sacrifice was to give up the kicking duties to fly-half George Ford who proceeded to land four penalties to match his brilliance as ringmaster.
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Casting shadows over the win were injuries to wing Jonny May and Kyle Sinckler that place them in doubt for the final at the same venue, while Farrell will surely be looked at closely. England faced the arrowhead formation of the haka with a V-shape and the act of defiance – led by a pumped-up Joe Marler – was followed by an extraordinary start that saw them cross almost immediately.
Elliot Daly launched the attack with a dart down the right and several phases later, after clever offloads by Courtney Lawes and Sinckler, a huge hole had opened up in the All Blacks defence to enable Tuilagi to grab and score. England might have had a second shortly after when Tuilagi read an attack to begin a counter that ended when May was unable to find Farrell with the line beckoning.
The opening quarter was played at breakneck speed with the rivals taking it in turns to stage blistering attacks, but overall New Zealand were struggling to hold back the white tide. Up front, they were being pummelled as Courtney Lawes pinched their line-out ball and Itoje plundered a maul turnover.
England thought they were over in the 24th minute but were pulled back for crossing and in response, the All Blacks stepped up a gear, Brodie Retallick forcing a gap that would have resulted in a try but for a poor final pass. A scrum penalty was the prelude to another spell of English domination that continued with two breakdown penalties as New Zealand struggled to escape the vice-like grip of the underdogs.
Farrell’s obvious discomfort meant Ford kicked a penalty to extend the lead to 10-0 at half-time and there was no let-up as England exploded out of the blocks for the second half. A second try was disallowed for the ball being moved forward at a maul just before Ben Youngs slipped through a gap, but a Ford penalty at least rewarded yet another visit to the 22.
May and Sinckler had limped off by now, victims of the punishing intensity, and suddenly New Zealand upped the tempo with Sevu Reece only being kept out by a double tackle by Henry Slade and Tuilagi. Disaster struck for England at the ensuing line-out as Jamie George missed Itoje completely with his throw, instead finding Ardie Savea who scored one of the easiest tries of his life.
The response from the 2003 champions was emphatic as they blitzed their way downfield, winning a penalty for Ford to send between the uprights. A sign of New Zealand’s frustration came when Sam Whitelock shoved Farrell in the head, reversing a penalty and when Ford sent his fourth kick between the uprights their World Cup was over.
England finished with their bench on the pitch yet still steamrollering the disillusioned black shirts as they sealed their fourth appearance in the World Cup final.
– Press Association
WATCH: How Jim Hamilton previewed the England versus New Zealand semi-final on Don’t Mess With Jim
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