We look at the major talking points after England’s magnificent 19-7 Rugby World Cup semi-final victory over New Zealand in Yokohama.
England centre Manu Tuilagi says reaching the World Cup final is ‘beyond his dreams’ and he is proud to beat ‘the best team in the world’
All clear upstairs – on one side
Often, when a side faces the All Blacks at this level, the challenge is as much psychological as it is physical.
Taking that into consideration, the mentality and balance this England squad exhibited in the face of an All Blacks XV which ripped Ireland apart last week, playing a brand of attacking rugby rarely seen in the history of the sport, was extraordinary.
And it was so, because there were several times during the 80 minutes where England heads could have dropped. Indeed, it’s likely most other nations would have folded in similar scenarios.
Starting fantastically, England had to deal with the set-back of an Underhill try being ruled out on 25 minutes. Yet, within moments, Itoje was stealing a lineout and the pack was forcing a scrum penalty. Attentions turned straight to the next job.
Heading in at half-time with just a 10-0 lead to show for a comprehensively one-sided display, England never panicked. There was an overriding feeling that England might be made to pay for not scoring more and the All Blacks would come roaring back.
Yet, the second half saw England create chances first: Daly’s penalty from distance slipping wide, and then Youngs’ thwarted try-scoring effort – in so many ways, the latter was the central moment in the Test.
After turning down a potential shot at goal for a kick to the corner, England’s rolling maul came to a halt before scrum-half Youngs threw a delightful dummy to saunter past Anton Lienert-Brown and queue delirium amongst the players.
But their biggest high of the match so far was brought crashing down when the TMO spotted a knock-on within the maul. An enormous blow, and potential 17-0 advantage in a World Cup semi-final wiped out.
Still England failed to crumble. Within minutes, they were turning the ball back over in the All Black half and attacking once more. No excuses, no negativity. Just pure concentration.
And then, to the largest of all trials faced by the side in Yokohama: George’s overthrow and Ardie Savea’s try with 22 minutes left.
It was a gift, something the All Blacks had not had to construct or work for, and when Richie Mo’unga converted, the gap was just six points. A severe moment of disappointment for Jones’ players.
From here, there appeared only one winner, and it wasn’t England.
Against Australia, England responded to the concession of a try with a quick score of their own, however, and they did so here again.
Within five minutes, Ford kicked a penalty and notched another with 10 minutes left. The mindset England showed to take each potential blow in the semi-final and turn it into motivation to score points, rather than fold back into a shell, was tremendous.
“Courage over fear” is how Sinckler – the outstanding prop in the World Cup so far – aptly termed England’s mindset in the game afterwards.
Courage over fear. Great team performance. One more game to go! ðŸŒ¹#RWC2019 pic.twitter.com/suqiJDRqaF
— Kyle Sinckler (@KyleSinckler) October 26, 2019
By direct contrast, the All Blacks lost their heads.
Mo’unga sliced kicks off the park when under pressure, George did likewise after failing to call a mark in his 22. Rash offloads were thrown and several times New Zealand players were dumped off the pitch, surrendering possession.
With 13 minutes left, Sam Whitelock caused a penalty in the England half to be reversed when he shoved Farrell at a ruck. It was costly and telling.
The All Blacks were made to look hesitant and rushed in equal measure. Panicked and frantic when it was apparent things were not going their way and there was no easy method to arrest the slide.