If England are to make it to their fourth Rugby World Cup final on Saturday, not only are they going to need to turn in their performance of the tournament so far, they are also going to have to buck the form books and record their first win over New Zealand since 2012.
Eddie Jones’ side are capable of beating the All Blacks, certainly, having impressed over the past four years, whilst New Zealand’s aura of invincibility has been dealt a number of blows by the British and Irish Lions, Ireland, South Africa and Australia. That said, England will need to be firing on all cylinders in Yokohama if they are to end their six-match losing streak against the southern hemisphere team.
The knowledge that they can do it will not be alien to the England side, with Ben Youngs, Owen Farrell, Manu Tuilagi and Mako Vunipola all having been involved in the win in 2012 and all likely to start on Saturday. Jonathan Joseph, Courtney Lawes and Dan Cole were part of that 2012 group, too, and Jones could use all three when he names his side tomorrow.
We have taken a look at three key areas where those players and the rest of the England team will need to be at their very best if they are to unseat the reigning world champions and give themselves a shot at their second world title.
Pressure the lineout
New Zealand’s lineout is the peerless set-piece of world rugby. England’s may statistically match up, but the multitude of options that New Zealand have, which includes perhaps the best three attacking jumpers in the international arena in Kieran Read, Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock, and the difficulty that opposition teams have of reading and disrupting the unit, is highly impressive.
This puts an onus on Maro Itoje to step up and be able to challenge, ideally by stealing ball, but failing that at least disrupting and slowing down the service New Zealand can give to Aaron Smith. The All Blacks are deadly in the first couple of phases off of set-piece and England will need to deny them those opportunities as much as possible. If Lawes retains his starting spot – and this could be a good reason why he might – he will need to aid Itoje in putting that pressure on. Lawes is one of the best in the Gallagher Premiership at doing just that.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) October 21, 2019
Balance of line-speed and tackling efficiency
The All Blacks are powerful and they are elusive, something which is illustrated by their 89 clean breaks so far this tournament, a figure which has them comfortably at the top of the charts. Teams that can get up fast and into the faces of New Zealand have historically had a level of success in countering their silky ball-handling and smart decision-making.
Equally, however, England cannot afford to sacrifice their efficiency in the tackle in order to deliver that line-speed. If the speed and a missed tackle can force New Zealand back inside, then that should be job done with the covering defence coming across. If the tackle is missed and New Zealand can carry straight through, over or to the outside of the would-be tackler, then England will be in plenty of trouble. This is the biggest test of John Mitchell’s tenure as England’s defence coach, and his charges will need to be quick, physical and smart for 80 minutes.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) October 23, 2019
Farrell has to fire
Even if England can do both of those previous things well and consistently, they are still, almost certainly, going to concede tries. They won’t be able to contain New Zealand and let them punch themselves out, just as they did to Australia last week, as the All Blacks will manufacture enough space and opportunities to cross the whitewash. As such, England need to be able to do the same and that requires Farrell, whether at 10 or at 12, to fire offensively.
His flat, defence-beating pass to Kyle Sinckler was an example of the strings that Farrell is capable of pulling and he will need to create opportunities for England. Tuilagi is a player that New Zealand will be very wary of and Farrell will need to play the Leicester Tiger into the right positions, but also be aware of what other opportunities Tuilagi’s presence alone creates for the rest of the team. England’s playmaker will be under pressure to kick accurately, defend as well as he did against Australia and be the creative spark to help his side unlock New Zealand’s underrated defence.
Watch: Eddie Jones claims England were spied on in training
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