No Super Overs This Time | England v New Zealand Preview
Where England’s swashbuckling, six-blasting cricketers won the hearts of the nation as they smashed their way to World Cup glory, their rugby counterparts are made up of a different DNA.
With a behemothic scrum, supercharged wingers and the ruthlessly efficient Owen Farrell, Eddie Jones has assembled a mechanical masterpiece for his assault on the World Champions.
This formulaic structure meant that there was little surprise as England inflicted Australia’s heaviest knock-out defeat ever, as they raced to a 40-16 victory in Oita.
Jones’s gamble to replace George Ford with Henry Slade paid off, with the Exeter back combining well with Farrell to create a playmaking partnership that dominated the midfield.
It was Slade whose interception and deft kick set up the second try of Jonny May’s brace as he reaffirmed his status as one of the best wingers in the world.
England’s front-row of Kyle Sinckler, Jamie George and Mako Vunipola offered brutality up-front and dynamism across the park, as demonstrated with their well-worked third try finished by Sinckler storming home from the Australian twenty-two.
One major cog in the machine is flanker duo Tom Curry and Sam Underhill. Titled the ‘kamikaze kids’ by Jones due to their unrivalled energy and an average age of 22, the pair’s chemistry is what sets them apart from other partnerships. Tackle monsters with perfect technique, when one makes a hit, the other will be there to snatch the ball and allow their team to quickly counter.
Their partnership has been lauded as a revelation by rugby fans, with their battle with David Pocock and Michael Hooper was one of the standout tenets of England’s victory against Australia. Pocock and Hooper have been peerless in their decade-long domination of the breakdown, yet on Saturday Curry and Underhill demonstrated why there are the heirs to the 6/7 crown.
England’s machine must be firing on all cylinders against the World Champions on Saturday if they are to have any hope of reaching their first Rugby World Cup Final for 12 years.
The All Blacks ventured to Japan as favourites to win their third consecutive title, yet their air of invincibility seemed to have slipped.
Since Messrs Carter, McCaw & co. hung up the famous black jersey four years ago, New Zealand have undergone an identity crisis. This was demonstrated when the British & Irish Lions fought back to salvage an unlikely draw in 2017, when South Africa claimed a memorable victory in Wellington in 2018, and surfaced again when Ireland claimed a memorable victory in Dublin two months later.
New Zealand’s talent is unrivalled in world rugby, with the mercurial Beauden Barrett personifying this. Yet the fly-half’s trajectory to double World Player of the Year awards seemed to mirror the All Blacks’ decline.
Since moving him back to full-back, however, Steve Hansen has recreated the winning elixir. A vital component has been installing Richie Mo’unga in the 10 jersey. The Crusaders fly-half has steadied the ship by adding control to the 10 jersey that had been lacking since the days of Carter, giving Barrett license to be at his electric best in a free role at full-back.
Despite his attacking potency, England will look to target Barrett through the sharpshooting boot of captain Farrell. So much of their success under Jones has come through an intelligent territory game, and combined with the sweaty, sticky Japanese conditions, New Zealand’s golden boy could come under fire.
Despite being impeccably drilled, one weakness England do have is creativity, which their Southern hemisphere counterparts have in bucketloads. Eddie Jones’s side will look to fire up his machine with another rapid start, but if the All Blacks bring their fluid game to Yokohama, England could be in trouble. Surely, then, it’s not too late to give Ben Stokes a call…