RWC 2019: All Blacks and England braced for ultimate challenge in Yokohama

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Number one will face number two in the world when the All Blacks take on England in the Rugby World Cup semi-finals in Yokohama on Saturday.

Here we examine the key talking points ahead of the match.

ULTIMATE CHALLENGE

A classic that has every rugby fan brimming with excitement.

What makes this duel even more compelling is the marked contrast in playing styles between the two teams: it is world rugby’s most potent attack against the tournament’s tightest defence.

We all know the pace and accuracy with which the All Blacks can pass a ball and identify formidable attacking positions, but the manner in which England kept their discipline and pulled away from the Wallabies suggested a team who believe they have the skills to rectify any problem.

New Zealand never press the self-destruct button or make careless mistakes under pressure and possess a better kicking game than the Red Rose.

However, Eddie Jones’ side are improving as each game passes, combining their physicality with calmer decision-making and accuracy.

Like any other team in the game, New Zealand are less comfortable on the back foot, although their pool opener against South Africa did show how quickly they can transform defence into attack.

Similar to their clash at Twickenham last November, England’s primary target is to restrict the All Blacks to under 20 points. From this position, anything is possible.

While New Zealand have won the past six matches between the teams, three of the last four encounters have been settled by three points or less.

A controversial decision to overturn Sam Underhill’s try with five minutes to go denied England a rare victory over the All Blacks last November.

In a World Cup semi-final, anything can happen.

ALL BLACKS OR ENGLAND ON CURRENT FORM?

Based on 2019 form, there is an argument to make that England boast better individual players than the All Blacks.

Do the world champions have props with a greater carrying threat than Kyle Sinckler and Maro Vunipola?

Is Codie Taylor in better form than Jamie George?

Is Brodie Retallick – just back from a shoulder injury – superior to Maro Itoje?

Would you have Richie Mo’unga steering the ship from No10 or the leadership and magic of Owen Farrell?

In truth, England shade these central areas of the field.

On the reverse side, New Zealand’s Ardie Savea has been among the stand-out players of the tournament so far. And Kieran Read, yet to be on a losing World Cup team in his 11 years as an All Blacks number eight, owns the middle of the park with his crushing tackles and powerful runs.

Two-time World Player of the Year Beauden Barrett and elusive winger Sevu Reece look sharp in attack and Mo’unga’s cleverly weighed kicks and range of passing has been effective in each match so far.

It is set up to be a thrilling contest between two of the best teams in the game – and two teams purring with confidence whenever they enter the big stage.

WHERE WILL THE GAME BE WON AND LOST?

If England are going to beat New Zealand and reach a first World Cup final since 2007, then they will have to deny Steve Hansen’s side quick ball.

Ireland were not able to do that last weekend and the All Blacks had a field day, closing out the match before half-time.

It will not be entirely reliant on the likes of Tom Curry and Underhill to disrupt fast ball but based on their performances against the Wallabies they are more than capable of preventing New Zealand from generating the kind of possession they thrive on.

Another area where England can turn the screw is the set-piece. New Zealand’s scrum has been humming with godliness of late but the line-out is a chief area that Jones’ men can exploit.

England can control the ball effectively in possession and keep it away from trouble, therefore shattering New Zealand’s line-out could be significant.

With this in mind, Jones may opt to reinstate George Kruis at lock in place of Courtney Lawes.

The decisive factor though will be whether New Zealand can stop England’s power game – an area they have dominated against top opposition this calendar year.

If England get their power game going and put big carriers like Manu Tuilagi and the two Vunipola brothers over the gain line, it will be interesting to see how the All Blacks react.

Whichever team is able to impose their style, win the line-out battle and the power game will seal their place in the final.

  • Head down to McGettigan’s JLT this weekend to watch the Rugby World Cup semi-finals and soak up the  atmosphere.

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