All Blacks 7
Under a glorious night sky in Yokohama, the sun has set on the All Blacks’ dream of winning three World Cups in succession, England deservedly going into next Saturday’s final with a completely dominant performance which simply squeezed their opponents out of the game.
This wasn’t even that close in the end and the English had two tries ruled out (rightly). Want another omen? Maybe the way England’s players Joe Marler and Billy Vunipola strayed into the All Blacks’ territory at the start of the haka and simply ignored the officials’ pleas to get back on their side of halfway. It perhaps signified that the men in white wouldn’t play by the normal rules at Yokohama Stadium.
They were immense, especially up front, but rarely has the ball bounced so cruelly for the All Blacks. There will be recriminations in New Zealand and much further afield over what went wrong here over the next weeks and months, including the decision to select Scott Barrett at blindside flanker, a gamble that didn’t work, but sometimes the chips just don’t fall in your favour.
The better team won on the night. Led by an apparently lame but obdurate Owen Farrell, they were composed and effectively extinguished New Zealand’s attacking threat through an incredible defensive effort and credit must go to their coaches Eddie Jones and John Mitchell for that.
If England got a bit of luck when Henry Slade’s second-half tackle on Sevu Reece in the right corner was ruled fair by the officials, who increasingly smiled on the English with their decision-making, so the All Blacks got a slice when the ensuing lineout throw by Jamie George went straight to a grateful Ardie Savea and over he went for a try which kept the All Blacks in it at 13-7.
The decisions by Owens and his officials to rule out tries for the impressive Sam Underhill (offside) and Ben Youngs (knock on), were right but could have gone the other way on other nights.
And yet, the All Blacks had still been forced into catch-up mode by then and so a mistake by replacement Jordie Barrett opened the door again for England; George Ford kicking a penalty to extend England’s lead to a crucial nine-point margin.
Tuilagi’s converted try after two minutes – a drive close to the line after Richie Mo’unga missed a tackle in the build-up – was a bad blow for the All Blacks, but that wasn’t the worst of it. They didn’t look close to scoring a point in the first half and the rain which began to softly fall appeared a fitting metaphor. Every spark was extinguished.
Their lineout, supposedly bolstered by the inclusion of Scott Barrett at blindside flanker, was way off – Maro Itoje and Courtney Lawes ruled this area – and the All Black maul was out, as was their attack and kicking game. They were on the back foot from the start due to England’s greater physicality and they occasionally looked frail on defence for the first time at this tournament.
Very little went right for them. In fact, they were often holding on by a thread. Beauden Barrett’s pass was intercepted by Tuilagi, and it took a brilliant cover tackle by brother Scott on flying wing Jonny May to snuff out the threat.
Mo’unga was under pressure – often put in that state by an ever-present Tuilagi virtually standing in the All Black backline, and the English loose forwards Underhill and Tom Curry were having the games of their lives.
Underhill’s try was rightly scrubbed out after his mate Curry was adjudged to have been offside, but the English had the All Blacks covered and a response from the defending champions was a long time in coming.
In the end it never really materialised; a strange way for them to fail given their attacking weapons. Their World Cup winning run ends at 18 matches, the dream of winning three trophies in a row ending in a nightmare.
England 19 (Manu Tuilagi try; Owen Farrell con, George Ford 4 pens)
All Blacks 7 (Ardie Savea try; Richie Mo’unga con)