Kyle Sinkler will be looking to make his presence felt after an impressive Quarter Final performance against Australia.
The last time England faced the All Blacks in a Rugby World Cup Semi-Final was 24 years ago in Cape Town; Images of Jonah Lomu bulldozing his way over Mike Catt on the way to one of his four tries are still fresh in the minds of some England fans.
So what do England need to do to prevent another defeat and reach their fourth World Cup Final in history? I have rounded up the key areas that the Red Roses will have to nail if they have any chance of it
1. The Breakdown
New Zealand are renowned for their clinical yet fluid attack with ball-in-hand, which is a threat in itself that England will have to snuff out. But the All Blacks are just as dangerous at the breakdown. With the likes of Kieran Read and Brodie Retallick eyeing up turnover opportunities on the ground, England will have to be sharp and clever when defending their own ball. They won’t want to over-commit to the breakdown; We all know how much the All Blacks love to target that overlap on the wide channels. Support and strong positioning over the ball not only starves their opposition of possession, but offers up the ball on a plate for the next phase.
New Zealand skipper Kieran Read is a master at the breakdown. This will be his final game in an All Blacks jersey should England emerge winners.
It can make or break any team’s attack. It doesn’t matter how much work you put into winning a penalty; If you get into your opposition’s 22 and make a mess of your lineout, you may have cost your team valuable points. And points don’t get much more valuable than in a World Cup Semi Final. The likes of Maro Itoje, Courtney Lawes and George Kruis will need to have their wits about them as they battle for the high ball. New Zealand have already shown their ability to catch their opposition off-guard, and in a game where every inch is worth a mile England cannot afford to fall short.
Okay, while this isn’t exactly a technical area any more than it is a mindset within the players, it’s a massive part of professional rugby. And in a World Cup Semi Final, decisions made on the pitch can mean the difference between lifting the trophy or taking an early flight home. Owen Farrell will inevitably hold the most pressure on his shoulders as captain, but all fifteen players have a role to play. Should I make this offload? Do I compete for that ball? Do I commit to this tackle or trust that my mate will get it? These are the split-second questions that will be firing through the heads of each England player on the pitch and which if are not spot-on, could cost the team points or even a spot in the final.
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Knowing when to pressure the onrushing attacking line and when to hold off and weather the storm can pay dividends when facing a team as unpredictable and clinical as the All Blacks. England will need to be as clinical and as ruthless in defence as they are in attack, shutting down threats and giving New Zealand as little room to manoeuvre as possible. The Red Roses will need to take their opportunities; A missed chance will have them kicking themselves, especially when you’re up against the most successful International team in rugby history.
England cannot afford to head into a World Cup Semi Final (or any game that sees them pitted against such a volatile opposition) with a rigidly fixed game plan. Eddie Jones will be well-aware of this. The ability to read and react to an evolving game is what defines a truly great team, and is something that England will no-doubt have readied themselves for in the preparation phase of this titanic clash in Yokohama City.
Whatever happens on Saturday, the team that emerges victorious will be the team that takes their opportunities with conviction and belief. England must believe they can cause an upset and send the All Blacks packing. Can they do it? We’ll find out come Saturday morning.