England produced one of their greatest-ever displays to storm into the World Cup final with a 19-7 victory over New Zealand that reduced the reigning champions to a rabble.
From the moment Manu Tuilagi crossed after 97 seconds an extraordinary match beckoned and the final scoreline did little justice to the domination of Eddie Jones’ men, who were superior in every single facet of the game.
New Zealand had won their previous 18 World Cup matches dating back to 2007 but at International Stadium Yokohama they were flattened by a juggernaut led by the unstoppable Maro Itoje.
England will face either South Africa or Wales in next Saturday’s final and having crushed the odds-on favourites to win the Webb Ellis Trophy, they will be expected to repeat their solitary triumph of 2003.
Everywhere across the pitch they won significant battles, Itoje supported by brilliant flankers Tom Curry and Sam Underhill who carried the fight to feared opponents right from the start.
New Zealand’s selection of lock Scott Barrett as an additional line-out jumper at six backfired as they were demolished at the set-piece to the point that Sam Cane, a recognised flanker, was brought on at half-time.
The withdrawal of Barrett was a stark admission by Steve Hansen that his tactics were misjudged but by the time Cane arrived it was too late, the ascendency at the breakdown of Curry and Underhill was complete.
It is hard to recall the All Blacks ever being made to look so ordinary as they searched in vain for the inspiration that would save them from disaster and the fightback never came.
Midway through the first-half Owen Farrell began limping and despite being beckoned for an examination by the team doctor, he battled on and even sprinted out for the second-half.
Having converted Tuilagi’s try, Farrell’s only sacrifice was to give up the kicking duties to fly-half George Ford who proceeded to land four penalties to match his brilliance as ringmaster.
Casting shadows over the win were injuries to wing Jonny May and Kyle Sinckler that place them in doubt for the final at the same venue, while Farrell will surely be looked at closely.
England faced the arrow head formation of the Haka with a V-shape and the act of defiance – led by a pumped-up Joe Marler – was followed by an extraordinary start that saw them cross almost immediately.
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