All Blacks beaten at World Cup for first time in 12 years. New Zealand's bid for a third successive World Cup came to a shuddering halt at the penultimate stage as England outclassed the holders 19-7 in Yokohama to reach next week's decider.
Not since the 2003 Rugby World Cup has English rugby enjoyed a more stunning or significant moment. The national team are into their first final for 12 years but the manner in which Eddie Jones’s side left New Zealand strewn on the canvas was as striking as the 19-7 scoreline. The All Blacks’ dreams of becoming the first team to win three consecutive Webb Ellis Cups were not so much dashed as smashed.
As well as delivering New Zealand’s first loss in 19 World Cup matches dating back to the 2007 quarter-finals, this was the equal of any England performance in modern times. The All Blacks, so dominant in the tournament en route to the last four, could cope with neither the power at England’s disposal nor their defensive strength and tactical acumen after Manu Tuilagi’s second-minute score had set the initial tone.
England’s forwards knew they would have to play the collective game of their lives and duly did so. Maro Itoje was everywhere and along with Tom Curry, Sam Underhill and Courtney Lawes delivered a world-class performance when it mattered most. George Ford, taking over the kicking duties from a limping Owen Farrell, kicked four vital penalties and, when the inevitable All Black fightback finally materialised, some of England’s tackling, particularly from Underhill, was off the scale.
As an advert for rugby the entire game more than lived up to its advance billing. From the moment England formed their own deliberate V-shaped arrowhead to greet the haka, encroaching slightly into the Kiwi half for extra effect, there was an edge to proceedings and the opening minutes saw a similar statement of intent.
It took England less than 98 seconds to made their intentions crystal clear, a superb attacking sequence ending with Tuilagi plunging unstoppably over by the posts. Farrell’s conversion made it 7-0 and it was a full seven minutes before New Zealand could take anything remotely resembling a breath.
The sight of the diminutive Ford stripping the All Black tighthead Nepo Laulala perfectly symbolised England’s intent and it was the team in white who dominated virtually the entire first half. Even the multitalented Beauden Barrett looked slightly rattled and New Zealand were fortunate not to concede a second try when Tuilagi intercepted an attempted long pass from the full-back. When the ball arrived in Jonny May’s hands on the wing 40 metres out there seemed only one outcome but the winger, who came off with a tweaked muscle against Australia in the quarter-final, could not outpace the cover on this occasion.
The All Blacks has another let-off when Underhill, having collected Kyle Sinckler’s pass, charged over for a potential score which was subsequently chalked off because Tom Curry’s decoy run had illegally cleared a defender from his path. Only with a limping Farrell clearly in discomfort did England’s momentum slow momentarily but they still spent more than two-thirds of the opening half in their opponents’ territory and mostly forced New Zealand’s dangerous backs to live off scraps. A 45-metre penalty from Ford extended England’s interval lead to 10-0 and left Steve Hansen’s team staring into the abyss.