England’s win over the All Blacks was four years in the making

Kyle Sinckler

“Mate, until that whistle blows, you don’t know what’s going to happen,” Eddie Jones once told his autobiography writer Donald McRae.

We may have believed, we may have had an inkling, but before that whistle went on Saturday, even the most blinkered England rugby fans didn’t know what was about to happen. A 19-7 victory over reigning World Cup champions New Zealand.

This was one of the most complete performances by an England rugby side; 2003’s winning coach Sir Clive Woodward has gone as far to rank it as the greatest ever England game, eclipsing any of his own squad’s efforts.

It was ferocious in every aspect. The England football team may have three lions on their shirt, but on Saturday the country’s rugby team had 15 on the pitch; a pride hunting All Black players like bewildered wildebeest.

It was attacking incision matched with a supreme defensive performance, confirming that the game against Australia was no one-off or purely down to a poor Wallaby side. Tom Curry and Sam Underhill (forming his own highlight reel of monster hits) were once again to the fore, smashing anything that moved, while Maro Itoje put in a shift that will go down in English folklore – the kind to tell your grandkids about.

England pressured the Kiwis in all the right areas. Led by the recalled George Ford at flyhalf, they kicked behind New Zealand into space, forcing their back three to turn, giving the chasers opportunity to run them down before a counter attack could be launched.

The All Blacks and their much-vaunted attack had nowhere to turn. They conceded a risible 20 turnovers as English players jackalled, disrupted mauls, counter rucked, ripped out the tackle or pressured them into throwing speculative offloads.

Central to this gameplan is the all-court footballing skills of England’s tight five. Never mind the twin playmakers in Ford and Owen Farrell, Kyle Sinckler was operating like a third flyhalf at tighthead; all cute offloads and passing on the gain-line. Sure, he and Tom Curry got the timing wrong on the first disallowed try but the wrap-around was more reminiscent of Johnny Sexton than English tightheads of days past.

Sinckler, Jamie George and Mako Vunipola made 12 passes and 28 carries between them. In comparison, New Zealand – long the sole preserve of forwards comfortable with the ball – and their front row made one pass and seven carries. England may have edged the possession 56% to 44%, but those are stark differentials.

Before the game, my friends and I were speculating on who we’d pick from a combined 2003 and 2019 side. Understandably, 2003 dominated, but we were all unanimous we’d pick the complete 2019 front row. Maybe that says something about how the role of props and hookers has evolved, or maybe it shows we have a golden generation of front row talent.

Their influence can even be seen on the old guard such as Dan Cole. Since being dropped from the squad, Cole has upped his game, drawing from the likes of Sinckler and Vunipola to prove an old dog can learn new tricks. It was brilliant to see him provide impetus from the bench, tackling hard and carrying the ball with relish.

Few, if any, beyond Jones saw this coming. Four years’ ago, England were imploding on home territory, like a grisly car crash you can’t look away from even if you want to. Since then, Jones has dragged them from the wreckage and put them through relentless rehab.

There is context to that opening quote, with Jones continuing: “That’s why preparation is everything. If you get it right, the chances of your team being successful are high. But in a team of human beings nothing is guaranteed.”

So, although once the players take to the pitch you cannot script what comes next, you can work day and night to ensure their improv is up to scratch.

Jones knew, once the World Cup draw happened, we would likely be playing Australia in the quarter finals and New Zealand in the semis. He has been preparing for those moments, blooding talent, evolving a gameplan bit by bit.

It hasn’t been a clear run, and he has had to adapt on the fly when it became clear key players were not the ones Jones needed or that their bodies would not make it to Japan. Tom Curry and Sam Underhill took to the field as a pair for the first time this year. Jones was able to field the Vunipolas and Manu Tuilagi in the same team together for the first time in the Six Nations against Ireland. Lewis Ludlam and Willi Heinz (who has sadly now been ruled out the final) made the squad at the last minute. Jones is flip-flopping between Ford at 10 and Henry Slade at 13, with Farrell shifting accordingly, depending on the opposition.

In fact, this is arguably not a settled side – yet they play with a fluency and energy that belies their minimal international experience as a team. Jones has prepared them piece by piece, like a jigsaw with the overall picture only becoming clear as he slots them all into place at the last minute.

Next Saturday they play in a world cup final against the Springboks, a first for England since 2007 when they were outplayed the same opposition. That journey was against the run of play, making the final through sheer petulance as much as ability.

This squad is a different vintage, however. The win over New Zealand has marked them as an all-time great English team – the biggest danger is that win feeling like their final and failing to scale the same heights again.

So it was reassuring to see the muted celebrations following the semi-final win. Acknowledge the victory, thank the fans and then move on. England know it will count for little if they fall short in the end.

But there is still the sense this team is still not peaking. For all the plaudits, they were not perfect. They had two tries disallowed (one fairly, one… less so) and butchered at least two other opportunities. Had he been fully fit, you would have backed Jonny May to burn past Scott Barrett into the corner nine times out of 10. Similarly, one brain-fade over-throw gifted New Zealand their score.

But this gives England something to work on. They will walk into the final favourites but when that whistle goes no one knows what will happen. Thankfully, in Eddie Jones, they have a coach who has been preparing them for this moment for four years.

By Henry Ker

25 thoughts on “England’s win over the All Blacks was four years in the making

  1. The RFU is the biggest rugby union in the world. I always expected them to respond to 2015. But I didn’t expect them to respond this well. I thought they would get to the semis. Now I feel they should be gutted if they don’t win it.

    However Henry, I don’t agree that they were specifically preparing for those 2 games. No team in the top 8 should ever be preparing for specific opponents. They are developing their game to take on any opponent or at least should be. It’s not like they didn’t have a game plan for Argentina or Tonga. They did what all top teams do. They evolved a winning style of play and got good chemistry going in their team. They then executed it for each opponent they encountered.

    They may have tailored the approach a little but not much. You have to be able to beat the best if you want to succeed. Like my old head master once said: You aim high and then see where things end up after. You aim to be able to beat any team. That’s what any tier 1 team does.

    I’ll go further and back up my point. Joe Schmidt stated that if there was one mistake he made it was to focus too much on either South Africa or New Zealand instead of just keep plying the game they were playing. You play the kind of rugby that can win. Maybe it will win maybe it won’t. The moment you decide to limit your play to a particular type of opponent, your game play suffers and you can end up losing to Japan.

    England didn’t do that and they have a game to beat any opponent, including SA.

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      1. I’ll ignore that remark Stag. No I won’t! So if NZ hadn’t changed 1 back rower, they’d have won? You may ignore this remark though.

  2. Brilliant game by England, I think the ‘Boks will find it hard going if England turn up for the game. I don’t see why not. As the man said ‘Anything can happen”

  3. I suspect and hope there are books full of notes and observations devoted to SA. You can obviously get all you want from the telly, and indeed that’s where 99% of the intel’ will come from. Nothing like knowing the opposition has seen you’re face in the crowd though, all wise and sage like.
    I suspect the first 20mins of SA v NZ has been given a lot of air time, as indeed has NZs response. SA had no answer to the remaining 60mins.
    Eng are uncomfortable favourites I suspect. Maybe it’ll take an Aus mindset for the Eng team to actually embrace the fact and use it as an asset rather than a hindrance…,,

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    1. And yet SA have some key players to get at and frustrate you as Wales do. De Klerk and Pollard will be key if they are to have any chance against England, but I suspect Jones will be prepared for any curve balls coming at him.

  4. Possession 56% to 44%, surprised me as it seemed more. Therefore the Eng defence, played its part too. However, NZ have won games on less before & as Read intimated, they didn’t get into the game. Happened before though (remember 2012?) & it’ll happen again. Know one up here will want to know of course, but the challenge for Eng is whether they can not just win this nxt one, but then sustain it? if they succumb to mental pressure, who’ll remember. If they win it. They real pressure will the n await them. Interesting? We’ll have to see.

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    1. Rushed for time. No one.. the real.. Ctd.. Eng should walk this on Sat, shouldn’t they? Everyone will be euphoric & bask in the glory? Then they will be expected to win every game, like in 2003. Whether this too will weigh on their minds is yet to be seen. Jones & his team may have been the only ones subdued last Sat. However, subdued or not, keeping all grounded & being pre-conditioned by their psychologist is one thing, walking out there is & doing it is another. The pressure will be immense. it will mainly be on favourites England. The elephants kneeling on their chests will seem like mammoths. For me it’s mainly about how they handle all this. Will they go conservative & kick it like Wales & SA? Will they play a more expansive game? Will they replicate their NZ game plan? Will SA let them? Will Eng keep SA out? I’m beginning to feel stressed just typing about it! if Eng can overcome the mental bit though, they should win it. If SA do it better, then it could be a different story.. but I don’t think so.

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      1. post 2003 England went into full rebuild as the spine of the team retired and there was a management change.
        Hopefully whatever the result on Saturday the succession planning is in place to prevent the same thing happening. Fortunately with this group of player only old king Cole and new kid on the block Willie are near the end of their careers

        1. All teams have retirements, injuries Leon. Same particularly after each WC. Future looks bright. Well, it will if Eng win on Sat.. convincingly? The hardest part & which no one wants to discuss, perhaps understandably & especially at present, is whether they can sustain it all. Real ? for the future, but it needs addressing. Danger of drop off, anti climax, motivation for 6N? Next Everest is 4 yrs away. Anyway, Sat 1st, otherwise, ironically, future could be ‘easier’.

          1. Well the good news is that the kamikaze kids, Singleton, Cocka and Ludlam are 21/23 so have a potential for two more cycles in them. Watson, Daly, Ford, Nowell, Slade, Genge, LCD and Sinks all have 1 more tourney in them. Some of the others could make the next cycle but would be 32-33 so would need to be still at the top of their game to keep out the new young lads coming through.

            1. Seems good in theory Leon. However, as 1/2 the pack were picked due to injury let’s not forget, this could influence, along with attrition, over the next 4. Esp in respect of the way in which the, perhaps ironically named, Kamikaze Kids play. All speculation of course. Yet to be seen. Rugby can have its of ups & downs.

  5. Will the England forwards knock the wind out of the Boks as they did against New Zealand, get the quick try, and get themselves on the frontfoot early on?
    Unless either team gets that kind of start, I expect another close cagey affair, with lots of box kicks to force an error, and lots of kicking to keep play in the other team’s half. Very few or no tries expected here, and in the end a penalty or drop kick to win it, dramatically. As Coach Rassie has already predicted, they will probably “grind it out”. Anything else, including the result, will come as a surprise.

  6. Winning or losing-whatever the outcome on Saturday it has been a remarkable journey for Springbok rugby overcoming many obstacles,
    from government quotas to the loss of many talented players and dwindling local support as witnessed by poor attendance figures during the Currie cup and Super rugby competitions.

    So for myself it will be a matter of heart over head.

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    1. Agree with you Frans, having married into a family with strong South African ties I have shared many enjoyable ‘jaws’ about rugby. I’ve always conceded that since the pinnacle of 2007 SA have been battling against a perfect storm of quotas, a dwindling rand and a general concern about the future stability of the country. If none of the aforementioned were an issue then I have no doubt that SA would have been far more of a force over the last decade than they have been. It is to their immense credit that they have remained competitive despite those headwinds and now find themselves in an RWC final.

      The battle lines have been drawn in the family! May the best team win.

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  7. Although we lost the series in SA, we showed how to score tries against their system with relative ease in the first two games. If Englands defence can tighten up we definitely have a very good chance

  8. The fact that Rassie has openly come out and said the game plan is more of the same from us make me think it will be anything but more of the same

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    1. Exactly. We need to remember too that Jérôme Garcès will be reffing so the breakdown will be very different and Garcès can be played to blow and give away penalties as opposed to Owens who can be played by letting teams break rules and getting away with it. England need to bring it to them yet again and I think Ford needs to start as you need better tactical kicking to bypass this defence which for me as I stated in other posts is the best defence in the comp. It’s a bit of a gamble because of the hits he will take but it’s the final.

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      1. The thing is though, Ford has been defending like an absolute bastard so far in this tourny. Tackling some big buggers throughout and – touch wood – seems to be coming through relatively unscathed. Whilst I think the rejig v Australia made sense (countering Kerevi), de Allende et al offer a different type of threat and an England trio of Ford-Farrell-Tuilagi is well equipped to defuse it.

      2. Are you giving yrself thumbs ups again Biggles? Surely it can’t be anyone else can it? Prob not Andy or me, so whom? That is the ?

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