RWC 2019 Semi-Final: England vs New Zealand
Venue: International Stadium Yokohama, Yokohama
Date: Saturday, October 26, 2019
The two most dominant quarter-final winners will meet in Yokohama on Saturday as England take on New Zealand.
England reached the quarter-final stage without breaking much of a sweat as they eased past the USA and Tonga in two of the pool play matches. A fiercely contested battle against Argentina never really got going after the Pumas were reduced to having to play with 14 men for 60 minutes, while England’s final pool match against France was called off due to Typhoon Hagibis.
This meant that the game against Australia was seen as England’s first real test of the tournament, but that never really came into being as the Wallabies were swept aside 40-16 by the power of the England pack and the skill of backs like Jonny May and Anthony Watson.
New Zealand also played just three group games as Typhoon Hagibis was too much for their final pool game against Italy. Wins against Namibia and Canada were as routine as expected, but the All Blacks found themselves challenged for long periods by South Africa in their 23-13 win to open pool play. That game proved to be much tougher than anything they faced in the quarter-final from an Ireland team that peaked in 2018 and never really found their footing at this World Cup.
It will be fascinating to see if England again choose Owen Farrell in the No. 10 shirt against New Zealand. After playing for the whole tournament with George Ford at fly-half, Farrell at No. 12, and Manu Tuilagi at outside centre, Eddie Jones changed everything up against Australia. The return to fitness of Henry Slade game Jones the 13 he has wanted to play from the beginning, shifting both Tuilagi and Farrell inside one position and having Ford as a steadying influence coming off of the bench. No matter where he plays, Farrell will be England’s key man.
His pragmatic approach is exactly what England need to beat the All Blacks. Tactical kicking will be important for England, but the big thing Farrell must do is get his powerful forwards working off of front foot ball at the right tempo. Everything the England backline does comes from their power game, so expect to see the English throw everything they have at the All Blacks early on in the piece.
New Zealand are the heavy favourites in this game and they looked unplayable at times against Ireland. The decision to move Beauden Barrett into the fullback shirt and have Richie Mo’unga playing at No. 10 looks like a stroke of genius after a somewhat rocky start. This setup allows Barrett to float all over the field, entering the line when he sees attacking opportunities within their structure – in those situations, Mo’unga defers to him – and gives the All Blacks an attacking weapon at 15 unlike anything else in the competition.
England’s biggest defensive weakness is in their interior backs, where Tuilagi sometimes looks for the big hit while Farrell/Ford/Slade can miss tackles. This makes for an interesting decision regarding when to use Sonny Bill Williams in the centres as he brings a brand of power to the midfield that the likes of the skillful Jack Goodhue and Ryan Crotty don’t provide. There will be no Matt Todd in this one and the health of Kieran Read’s calf is worth monitoring.
History is not on England’s side here. We all remember the sight of Jonah Lomu running though Matt Catt – and just about everyone else – in 1995, but the All Blacks have won all three World Cup clashes and England haven’t beaten New Zealand in any Test match since 2012. England, though, believes they have enough to beat New Zealand this year. The line for this game in 7.5, with England being well worth a bet to cover that spread at 0.90 with BetXchange. England are also worth a punt straight up ar 2.35 to win the game, but you have to ignore the history of England (in all sports) losing big games to trust that bet.