Sensational Maro Itoje to Eddie Jones' 30-month risk: Five key points from England's World Cup semi-final win over New Zealand
With the hurt of Ireland's smashing at the hands of the All Blacks still lingering, Jonathan Bradley was there to watch the current champions' bid for three-in-a-row busted.
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It's a performance that will be remembered as one if not the greatest England display of the modern era.
Here are his five takeaway points from the first Rugby World Cup semi-final:
1. Itoje the one to unlock New Zealand
England, like New Zealand with the Crusaders, are built around a core of Mark McCall's successful Saracens team but among that stellar group one stood above the rest today. Maro Itoje was simply sensational. In the first-half alone he pinched two lineouts and came up with two turnovers. He had another turnover after the break but it was his tone-setting tackles that really caught the eye. New Zealand were swarmed, given no space to operate and more often than not it was Itoje sniffing out the threat behind the gainline as his name reverberated through the Yokohama Stadium.
In a superb collective, it was the lock reaching a level that will see his performance go down in lore.
2. The Kamikaze Kids are just getting starts
Having hit a World Cup rock-bottom four years ago, being bounced out of their own tournament in the pool stages, England are in a final at the next time of asking. So much has changed since from the coach, the captain, the personnel and the style but perhaps the biggest difference here was their flankers. Having gone into their games without a genuine openside last time around, they've unearthed two since. Eddie Jones's 'Kamikaze Kids' - Tom Curry and Sam Underhill - were fantastic again, none more so than when the latter drove none other than Kieran Read back and off the ball. At just 21 and 23 they figure to be unleashed in tandem for years to come.
3. Tuilagi is England's main Manu
The All Blacks aren't a side prone to nightmares but the sight of Manu Tuilagi must give them a few sleepless nights. The Leicester Tigers centre was the catalyst when what was then Stuart Lancaster's men so memorably beat the All Blacks back in 2012 and he was a real tone-setter again here.
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That game in Twickenham was the last time the All Blacks had been held scoreless in a first half and again the start here that proved so crucial. Having won the game in the first 20 a week ago, by that stage here the All Blacks were still trying to muster their first shot and trailing thanks to Tuilagi's try. Having signalled his return to the Test stage against Ireland in the Six Nations with a tour de force of a performance, his return to fitness is among the chief reasons why England find themselves the team they've become.
4. Discipline pays dividends
Of the four teams who came into this weekend vying for glory, England were the only ones yet to receive a card of any colour at the tournament so far. Where once discipline was scratchy, in Japan it has been an undoubted strength. Their penalty count stood at just 29 in four games before today and they undoubtedly got on the better side of Nigel Owens here. On just six occasions did they fall foul of the referee, in contrast to 11 censures for the All Blacks. Arguably it was a New Zealand penalty, given against Sam Whitelock for a needless hit on Owen Farrell, that ended the game as a contest. Rather than three points and a one-score contest, England stretched their lead even further by adding three of their own on their next attack. A critical swing. In a game where the try count finished one apiece, Steve Hansen's men weren't afforded a single shot at the posts.
5. Eddie Jones' 30-month risk pays off
He's certainly not everyone's cup of tea but it would be remiss not to mention the role of Eddie Jones. The coach has openly said they have targeted today from two and half years out. Had they not performed, had they fallen flat, then by the definition of his quote, the last 30 months of his tenure would have been a waste. Rather than crumple under that pressure though they excelled. From the moment the lined up to face the Haka in an aggressive formation, with Joe Marler indifferently wandering across the halfway line, the emotional pitch seemed just right. There's one game still to come of course but, having had this game red-ringed from so far out, Jones got from his side the defining performance of his tenure.
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