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Rugby World Cup moments: England topple New Zealand

England produced arguably their finest Rugby World Cup performance on Saturday 26th October 2019 when they outclassed New Zealand 19-7 in the semi-finals.

Facing the two-time defending champions in hot and steamy conditions, the Red Rose produced a masterclass in incisive, clinical rugby, exposing the lack of mobility in the Kiwi back-row to break the game open and dominate all facets of the play in relentless fashion.

Unfortunately for England, they could not reproduce their heroics when they returned to Yokohama a week later, failing to repeat their dominance at the breakdown as they were outmuscled 32-12 against South Africa in the final. 

WhatRugby World Cup 2023
WhereFrance
WhenFriday 8th September - Saturday 28th October
How to watchITV
OddsNew Zealand 5/2, France 3/1, South Africa 9/2, Ireland 5/1, Australia 10/1

Fast start sets the tone

After seeing off Australia 40-16 in the last eight, Eddie Jones tweaked his back-line, recalling George Ford at fly-half and pushing Owen Farrell into the centres alongside Manu Tuilagi at the expense of Henry Slade.

That allowed the Ford-Farrell axis to thrive, moving the ball with speed and England struck straight away as Tuilagi crossed after just two minutes.

A Ford penalty moved them 10-0 ahead and they could have been further in front had scores from Sam Underhill and Ben Youngs not been ruled out by the video referee.

The All Blacks responded as Ardie Savea crossed, capitalising on a wayward throw-in at the line-out.

However, Ford's brilliant boot kept the Red Rose ahead and saw them to a 19-7 victory. The scoreline arguably flattered the All Blacks and marked their first defeat at a World Cup since losing to France in the quarter-finals of the 2007 competition.

They had also triumphed in 15 of the pair's previous 16 matches, but could not match England's intensity as they reached their first final in 12 years.

A tactical masterclass

The momentum was behind England heading into the clash in Yokohama after a strong Pool C campaign that saw them record bonus-point victories over Tonga, the United States and Argentina.

Their big test against France had to be cancelled due to Typhoon Hagibis, but they soon found their rhythm in the last eight against the Wallabies in Oita and took that form with them into the semis.

The Kiwis beat South Africa in their Pool B opener and after easy wins over Canada and Namibia, their final group game against Italy was called off due to the weather.

They too went big in the last eight, beating Ireland 46-14 in Chofu, but coach Steve Hansen made a key tactical tweak ahead of the semi, dropping Sam Cane, switching Savea to openside flanker and selecting Scott Barrett on the blindside to add physicality and improve the line-out.

However, England's game was built around the speed of their back-rowers Tom Curry and Sam Underhill and they exposed New Zealand's lack of mobility in the tight, providing quick ball and allowing the backs to thrive.

In contrast to Hansen, Jones' midfield reshuffle proved the perfect call as Ford and Farrell moved their team around the field with poise and expertise. 

Their 10-12 combination had been a feature for England since their teenage years and they thrived in Yokohama.

Jones' finest hour as England boss

The real shame for England was that they could not repeat their performance the following Saturday against South Africa, arguably peaking a week too early.

Jones' determination to stick with a similar game plan against a more physically dominant Boks side looked like a mistake early on.

The decision to keep Tuilagi at outside centre, rather than move him into the number 12 jersey, as had worked so well against Australia, was exposed early on, with the Red Rose struggling to get him in a position to punch holes in the line.

The Australian coach had held off his doubters during a poor 2018 campaign by promising them all would come good in Japan and he was right. 

The Red Rose have always been known for their forward dominance but in hot and humid conditions, Jones ripped up the rule book against the Kiwis, favouring mobility and pace as his team used their speed to exhaust their opponents.

Jones has now moved on after stagnating at HQ, heading back home to coach the Wallabies and his former team have arguably not evolved since their masterclass in Yokohama.

After a mixed build-up to the 2023 World Cup, successor Steve Borthwick will need to find similar inspiration if he is to guide the 2003 champions to another semi-final and beyond in France. 

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