England v New Zealand is the first of two mouthwatering semi-finals as the 2019 World Cup reaches its climax. Many are saying that this is the final a week early.
It is hard to disagree with this sentiment given how good England and New Zealand were in the quarter-finals. For all of the positivity around England, can they really upset the best team in the world? And how are they going to do it? Charlie Inglefield delves into England’s strengths that could upset the All Blacks on Saturday.
Don’t worry about how good New Zealand are
Most teams who play New Zealand are probably beaten mentally before they get onto the pitch. It is the ‘Old Trafford’ mentality – teams have already lost before they went up against Sir Alex Ferguson’s men.
There is an aura about the All Blacks and rightly so given the extraordinary success that they have enjoyed over so many years. Add in the haka and it takes a lot of mental energy to be in the right mindset to take on let alone win against the All Blacks.
England must not waste valuable energy worrying about what the All Blacks can do. England have their strengths and more importantly, they have the ability to beat New Zealand.
Positive thoughts, positive deeds and focus on what they can do to the All Blacks. You don’t reach the semi-finals by being ordinary and England are ready to go against New Zealand.
England must do the basics well
The set-piece is an obvious strength that England have in their arsenal. They are one of the few teams in world rugby who can beat New Zealand in the line-out and in the scrum.
But, it is going to have to be near perfect. That is what it takes to beat the All Blacks, you have to be almost perfect in execution and accuracy.
England have cranked up their set-piece against Argentina and Australia. Yes, they have conceded the odd penalty at scrum-time but that can happen.
If it is their strength then England should utilise it to the full to give themselves the best chance against the Kiwis.
Kick and chase has to be accurate
This is an absolutely crucial area of the game on Saturday. England love their kick and chase to pressurise the opposition into conceding territory and asserting the pressure.
Every week we put the onus on Ben Youngs and this weekend will be no different. Youngs has to be inch-perfect with his box-kicks as New Zealand have a formidable back three. Beauden Barrett is lethal and England cannot give him space to run the ball back.
So far, as the high ball is concerned, Eddie Jones has identified the All Blacks back three as a potential area of weakness.
He feels that no team thus far in the World Cup has tested the hugely talented but relative international novice, Seve Reece. It is risk or reward but England has the skill and experience to stifle New Zealand’s momentum in the back three.
Play with discipline and controlled fury
This week James Haskell alluded to Tom Wood’s furious performance when England famously beat New Zealand in 2012.
That day every single England player played with a controlled fury. They never allowed the All Blacks to settle and were in their faces legally (mostly!) from minute one through to the final whistle.
If the Kiwis are allowed time and space to get their feared handling into action then England will lose. There is no team in the world who can run or handle the ball with such ease in both the forwards and backs than New Zealand.
It means that England’s rush defence has to be spot on. They have cut down the time that Richie Mo’unga has to delve into his box of tricks. Ben Youngs has to hassle and harry the infuriating but exceptionally good Aaron Smith.
The All Blacks have a relatively inexperienced centre partnership in Anton Lienert-Brown and Jack Goodhue. Manu Tuilagi and Owen Farrell have to smash into them and stop them from settling.
None of this is possible unless England stays on the right side of the referee. It is absolutely key that England keeps its discipline.
England’s power game can beat the All Blacks
It is what is synonymous with England rugby at the moment. When England are on their game, their power is brutal and suffocating. Not just with the players they have but the statements they make in the tackle and stopping the opposition flat.
We saw it time and time again against Australia. It may not be pretty but it is mightily effective.
If one breaks down England’s likely team on Saturday, there are four players who can influence England’s ability to win.
Billy Vunipola, Manu Tuilagi, Kyle Sinckler and Mako Vunipola. I would potentially add in Courtney Lawes but my hunch is that George Kruis may start this encounter.
England’s brutal four
Those four mentioned above are England’s real gain line metre eaters – when at their best.
Billy Vunipola has not been at his best in this tournament and he has to go really big against the All Blacks. He has to leave everything out there in the first 40 minutes – carry, carry and carry.
Billy is such a destructive force and it gives England so many attacking options. Kyle Sinckler and Mako Vunipola are also wonderfully dynamic ball carriers who can give England real go-forward.
Manu Tuilagi will relish the challenge of the All Black’s midfield. Owen Farrell will look to launch Tuilagi into Richie Mo’unga as much as possible.
England will get excellent second phase possession through Tuilagi’s thunderous power. Tuilagi will also look to aim up against Lienert-Brown and Goodhue.
Can England beat New Zealand? Absolutely. Yes, they will have to be near their best but so will New Zealand need to be.
“Main photo credit”