Outstanding England live up to pre-match promise
The build-up to England's semi-final with New Zealand demanded a big performance. Eddie Jones' men exceeded all expectations in Yokohama.
If you are going to face down an All Black Haka in a V formation prior to a Rugby World Cup semi-final, with your captain wearing a confident grin, you had better deliver a performance to back up your actions.
It is safe to say England did just that in Yokohama on Saturday.
Their job is not yet done, but this contest will live long in the memory.
With the exception of one horrendous line-out throw from Jamie George, which gifted Ardie Savea a second-half try, England barely put a foot wrong against the two-time defending world champions, who had not lost in 18 World Cup matches dating back to a 2007 quarter-final against France.
And you can forget Jones' pre-match comments suggesting his side were under no pressure. That is simply not possible in games of this magnitude.
England never play without expectation in any case and, while New Zealand were clearly the favourites, Jones will have known his players had to come up with a display befitting of such a huge occasion. It is to their immense credit that they served up just about the most complete 80 minutes imaginable.
The build-up to the game had been intense and it certainly felt like something special was in prospect as England faced down their opponents' Haka, Owen Farrell smiling as they did so.
"We wanted to not just stand there and let them come at us," said Farrell in a post-match news conference. "We wanted to keep a respectful distance and be respectful to that but we didn't want to just stand in a flat line letting them come at us."
In the only previous knockout clash between these sides at a World Cup, back in 1995, Jonah Lomu had laid waste to the men in white, scoring four tries in the most iconic individual display in the tournament's history.
Yet on this occasion, it was England's pace and power that proved decisive, the likes of Maro Itoje, Sam Underhill and Tom Curry particularly outstanding as Jones' men dominated at the breakdown for a second match in succession.
In England's quarter-final trouncing of Australia, Curry and Underhill comprehensively outplayed the celebrated back-row pairing of David Pocock and Michael Hooper.
Player of the Match Itoje and Courtney Lawes were able to win a similarly key battle on Saturday as they got the better of fellow locks Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock, a man who had never lost a World Cup game until now.
England's forwards were not the only heroes, though. George Ford - seemingly the calmest man on the field - excelled at fly-half having been restored to the starting line-up and successfully took over kicking duties after a first-half knock for Farrell, while Anthony Watson shone on the right wing.
"We just couldn't get into the game," said All Blacks skipper Kieran Read. Not only were New Zealand beaten, they could have absolutely no complaints about the result.
Earlier this week, Jones outlined how special it would be to beat Steve Hansen's men, stating: "When you've been involved in rugby the country you want to knock off is New Zealand, because they've been the best. And the reason you're involved in this game is you want to be the best."
One more win and England can claim to be just that. Either way, this was a performance that will go down in history as one of their very best.
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