Do New Zealand have any weaknesses and can England exploit them?
The All Blacks have lost just two of their 14 Tests in the last 12 months.
England face the toughest question in international rugby union in Saturday’s World Cup semi-final – how do you beat New Zealand?
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The All Blacks have lost just two of their 14 Tests in the last 12 months and made short work of Ireland in the quarter-finals in Japan.
England ran New Zealand close last November and coach Eddie Jones said his side have “had two and a half years to prepare for this game” – but are there weaknesses to be found?
Here, the PA news agency digs for any trends to be found in New Zealand’s recent fixtures.
Fast start, fast finish
Early and late in each half is the time to breach New Zealand’s formidable defence.
Of the 22 tries conceded by New Zealand over the last year, three have come in the first 10 minutes of games and six in the first 11 minutes of the second half.
They have also conceded in the 38th minute to Australia and the 40th to Japan, as well as eight tries in the 68th minute or later – some of those came with games already settled, though Herschel Jantjies’ 79th-minute score earned South Africa a 16-16 draw in Wellington in July.
— Springboks (@Springboks) July 27, 2019
Of the 19 penalty goals kicked against New Zealand in that time, 17 have come in the first half including nine in the first 12 minutes.
They have, however, conceded only four penalty goals in their last six Tests – three of them meaningless scores for Namibia in a pool-stage blowout.
Watson the wing wonder?
Looking at which players have scored the tries against New Zealand, two positions leap out – right wing, with five tries, and inside centre with four.
With Jones opting to move Owen Farrell, and his 10 tries in 77 caps, back to number 12 for the semi-final, wing Anthony Watson looks the likelier candidate to threaten the whitewash in Yokohama and add to his late score in the quarter-final against Australia.
Australia number 14 Sefa Naivalu, Jamie Henry of Japan and England’s Chris Ashton scored in successive All Blacks Tests in late 2018, while the Wallabies’ Reece Hodge added a brace in August’s big win.
Saturday’s starter George Bridge was on New Zealand’s left wing for that game but may have shored up the position since, with no further tries down that channel.
With Ireland’s number 12 Robbie Henshaw on the scoresheet in the quarter-final as well as Siale Piutau of Tonga in a warm-up game, maybe it is Farrell’s time after all?
The onus will be on the backs – Japan’s Hendrik Tui, England hooker Dylan Hartley and South Africa’s Pieter-Steph du Toit are the only forwards to score against New Zealand in over a year.
What does it mean for England?
The good news for Jones and co is that they executed the script almost to perfection in that 16-15 loss at Twickenham last year.
They scored a try in the first minute, and from number 14 Chris Ashton to boot, and while there were no penalty goals Owen Farrell did add a ninth-minute drop goal.
Hartley made it 15-0 and after the All Blacks’ fightback, England thought they had a 76th-minute winner only for Sam Underhill’s try to be disallowed by the TMO for offside against Courtney Lawes.