All across the park, from 1 to 15, the All Blacks were outplayed by their opposition.
In the first of 2019’s Rugby World Cup semi-finals, everyone expected a close tussle. The ‘smart’ money was on a narrow victory for the New Zealanders, who entered the tournament as the odds-on favourites to win their third World Cup.
England had other ideas.
The fact that the English emerged victorious after 80 minutes wasn’t a huge shock, however – it was how they bossed the All Blacks across the park.
Replay this game nine times and you’ll get all sorts of results. The fact that England comprehensively outplayed New Zealand in a one-off match doesn’t mean they’d do it on the regular – the two sides are still neck-and-neck.
Look ahead to the future, however, and it’s easy to see why England fans might be confident that their nation is entering a historical purple patch, rivalling the great England side of 2003.
The fact of the matter is, many of England’s top performers from Saturday night aren’t even nearing their peak years.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) October 26, 2019
Whilst it would be ludicrous to suggest that those three on their own were the difference between the two sides, they are certainly the three that any future New Zealand teams will fear coming up against.
Itoje and Underhill were two of England’s three top tacklers, with 31 between them. Itoje also wrangled 3 breakdown turnovers, whilst Curry managed a match-high 4 – often with Underhill in support. On more than one occasion, Underhill also forced penalties and he put in three key tackles – one on Kieran Read and one on Jordie Barrett – that put the All Blacks on the backfoot.
It was three incredible performances from three exceptional players – and there’s every reason to believe they’ll just keep getting better and better.
Flanker-cum-lock Itoje has a very good shot of captaining England once Farrell’s place in the starting lineup comes under pressure (though he showed no signs of slowing down in his ‘old’ age).
This was supposed to be the World Cup where Itoje further announced himself to the world after an excellent British and Irish Lions tour in 2017 – but another good performance from the 24-year-old could cement him as the favourite for the World Rugby Player of the Year.
Itoje, with 32 England caps to his name, has at least one more World Cup left in him but could easily be playing in 2027 too. New Zealand’s captain Read is 32 and whilst he looked turgid against England, he put in an exceptional performance against the Irish in the quarter-finals.
Underhill, 23, is in a similar boat.
Curry, who is just 21, has the world at his feet.
These three remarkable players will be giving the All Blacks nightmares for years to come and could pave the way for a period of English dominance.
England are a team on the rise. Yes, they have a number of players who are entering their twilight years and probably won’t feature at the next World Cup, but they also have a spine of young, hungry men who England’s future coach can build a team around.
Look out, rugby world.
England coach Eddie Jones had no complaints about his side’s performance after they dominated the All Blacks:
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