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All Blacks clash with England shaping up to be a World Cup classic

Today’s semi-final in Yokohama will see Eddie Jones’ team desperate to bring the Kiwis down.

AS WITH LAST weekend, the All Blacks are the favourites but England look better equipped than Ireland to truly push the back-to-back champions.

Today’s semi-final in Yokohama [KO 9am Irish time, eir Sport/RTÉ] has the makings of a proper World Cup classic.

Eddie Jones’ decision to restore his 10-12-13 combination of George Ford, Owen Farrell and Manu Tuilagi makes sense as he hopes for this team to offer a triple threat of run, pass, and kick.

england-captains-run-and-press-conference-international-stadium England at their captain's run in heavy rain in Yokohama yesterday. Source: David Davies

Ford has four try assists in this competition, second only to Ireland’s Conor Murray on five, while he has made a further three linebreak passes, those numbers underlining the quality of Ford’s distribution.

When that passing game is married to the equally excellent playmaking of Farrell at 12, with the pair of them rotating as first and second receivers, and is then combined with the directness of Tuilagi either as a decoy runner or a powerful ball-carrier, England are a better attacking team.

As well as that, the presence of Ford increases the threat of England’s kicking game, allowing them to kick across the backline with fullback Elliot Daly also offering a fine left boot and scrum-half Ben Youngs capable of kicking excellence.

Daly has improved England’s counter-attack capabilities from deep, while they have the sheer power of the likes of Maro Itoje, Billy Vunipola and Kyle Sinckler up front too.

Importantly, most of the England forwards are capable of passing too – Sinckler excels as a link passer – and they will likely need to bring subtleties with their undoubted power today.

The English forwards will attempt to attack the Kiwis at scrum and maul, but it’s worth noting just how good the New Zealanders were in those departments last weekend against Ireland.

Any Irish efforts to get on top at set-piece time were emphatically rebuffed as the All Blacks absolutely dismantled Ireland’s mauls, tearing through Joe Schmidt’s pack with an attacking maul of their own, and also providing a superb scrum platform for their backs to play off.

japan-rugby-wcup-new-zealand The Kiwis hit a peak last weekend against Ireland. Source: Mark Baker

The All Blacks pack has a genuinely brutal edge to it that is sometimes missed amidst their skill. Impressively aggressive clearouts are common from the Kiwis, while it’s worth stressing that they ground Ireland’s forwards down in the ball-carrying exchanges, most notably in the lead-up to Aaron Smith’s opening try.

All in all, the Kiwis beat Ireland physically, which allowed their skill level to come to fore. The stunning tip-on passes by Kieran Read, Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock under pressure from the Irish linespeed typified how the All Blacks pack can be brilliant on top of that brutality.

With Richie Mo’unga calmly and cleverly manipulating Ireland’s defence from out-half, ably served by Smith’s sensational passing, the Kiwi outside backs were sublime and close to error-free.

Jack Goodhue’s catch-and-pass on the scrum play that led to Smith’s second try was a sublime moment, while the back three of Sevu Reece, George Bridge and Beauden Barrett positively hummed with energy and pace.

With captain Read leading by impactful and intelligent example, last weekend’s performance was perhaps the All Blacks’ best since the last World Cup.

Scarily, there is still room for improvement after they conceded a whopping 14 penalties against Ireland. Damningly for Schmidt’s team, even all of those disciplinary failings were not turned into scores.

The Kiwis will be determined to get on better with referee Nigel Owens, with the Welshman overseeing them for the second weekend in a row.

However, we all must hope that refereeing decisions are in no way decisive in this contest, which promises to be thrilling despite the Kiwis’ seven-point favouritism. 

If both teams play to their maximum potential, the All Blacks will win but England will fancy their chances of dragging Steve Hansen’s team down, frustrating them and stifling some of their strengths.  

england-captains-run-and-press-conference-international-stadium Eddie Jones and England are eyeing up a place in the final. Source: David Davies

Jones’ entire tenure with England has been built towards achieving 2019 World Cup success, but then the All Blacks’ entire existence is about underlining their status as the very best in the world.

“When you’ve been involved in rugby, the country you want to knock off is New Zealand because they’ve been the best,” said Jones yesterday.

“And the reason you’re involved in this game is you want to be the best.

“We’ve got the opportunity to change rugby history and the whole team is excited about it.”

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England:

15. Elliot Daly
14. Anthony Watson
13. Manu Tuilagi
12. Owen Farrell (captain)
11. Jonny May
10. George Ford
9. Ben Youngs 

1. Mako Vunipola
2. Jamie George
3. Kyle Sinckler 
4. Maro Itoje
5. Courtney Lawes 
6. Tom Curry 
7. Sam Underhill
8. Billy Vunipola

Replacements:

16. Luke Cowan-Dickie
17. Joe Marler 
18. Dan Cole 
19. George Kruis
20. Mark Wilson
21. Willi Heinz 
22. Henry Slade 
23. Jonathan Joseph

New Zealand:

15. Beauden Barrett
14. Sevu Reece
13. Jack Goodhue
12. Anton Lienert-Brown
11. George Bridge
10. Richie Mo’unga 
9. Aaron Smith

1. Joe Moody
2. Codie Taylor
3. Nepo Laulala
4. Brodie Retallick
5. Sam Whitelock
6. Scott Barrett
7. Ardie Savea
8. Kieran Read (captain)

Replacements:

16. Dane Coles
17. Ofa Tuungafasi
18. Angus Ta’avao
19. Patrick Tuipulotu
20. Sam Cane
21. TJ Perenara
22. Sonny Bill Williams
23. Jordie Barrett 

Referee: Nigel Owens [Wales]. 

About the author:

Murray Kinsella  / Reports from Tokyo

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