YOKOHAMA, Japan (AP) – Even before the kickoff, England stole a march on defending champion New Zealand. Respect for customary All Blacks practice? Not in this Rugby World Cup semi-final.
Reserve prop Joe Marler wasn’t the only England player standing on New Zealand’s side of halfway when the All Blacks performed their famous pre-match haka yesterday, but he didn’t retreat to his own side even when a match official gestured to him about his breach of convention.
After shocking the two-time defending champions with a try to Manu Tuilagi in the second minute, England didn’t retreat one bit. And four years after being unceremoniously dumped out in the group stage of the World Cup they was hosting, England reached their first final in 12 years with a 19-7 upset over New Zealand.
The All Blacks hadn’t lost a World Cup game since that tournament in 2007, had never lost to England at a World Cup, went into the game on a six-game winning streak in head-to-heads and having won 15 of the last 16.
All those streaks are off. England’s Australian coach Eddie Jones had spoken all week of how vulnerable the All Blacks were as the hot favorites, despite describing them as the best team in sport. Jones strikes again.
He coached Australia to the 2003 final which ended in an extra-time loss to England – so far the Northern Hemisphere’s only Rugby World Cup crown.
Jones was a consultant on South Africa’s title win in 2007, sealed with a victory over England, guided Japan to a shocking win over South Africa at the 2015 World Cup pool stage and has now got England to the final.
“We’ve had two and a half years to prepare for it. They’ve had a week to prepare,” Jones said, recalling how England targetted this game when the tournament draw was made. “We’ve been unconsciously preparing for this.”
“I’d like to pay the greatest compliment to New Zealand,” he added, “they won two World Cups in a row and they’ve been a great team, so we had to dig really deep to beat them.”
The New Zealanders rallied from 15-0 down to win the last meeting 16-15, but this time England didn’t give them a chance. And that included two tries disallowed by the Television Match Official.
“There’s no shame in getting beaten by them,” New Zealand coach Steve Hansen said. “There’s a lot of hurt.”
What hurt Hansen more was the suggestion that the All Blacks didn’t turn up hungry to win. He invited a reporter to step outside the news conference room for questioning his team’s commitment.
England will next play the winner of today’s semifinal between two-time champion South Africa and Wales.