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On paper and on the pitch, New Zealand is seen by many as the finest rugby nation in the world.
The Kiwis have long dominated the game internationally – ever since World Rugby rankings were introduced in 2003, New Zealand’s All Blacks team has held the number one spot longer than all the other teams, combined.
A brave new world as Japanese rugby blossoms
Argentina, Fiji, France, Ireland, Japan, Portugal, Samoa, South Africa and Tonga have all suffered their greatest rugby defeats at the hands of New Zealand.
But as Australia proved in August, and Ireland in 2016, the All Blacks can be beaten.
And England, ranked number two in the world, might just be the team to do it.
Saturday’s World Cup semifinalat 5pm local time (8:00 GMT) in Japanis the first of two north-south clashes this weekend with the potential to be all-time classic matches. Wales take on the rejuvenated South Africa on Sunday.
New Zealand are bidding for an unprecedented third successive title, and start as favourites after winning 15 of their last 16 clashes with England.
But coach Eddie Jones’ side arrive in Yokohama full of confidence after thrashing Australia in the last eight, and former England scrum half and 2003 World Cup winner Matt Dawson, believes they have the quality to upset the odds.
He warns, however, that they will need to be “perfect”.
“England have some world-class players. If that group play to their best, England will win,” he told BBC 5 Live on Friday.
“It starts with individual performance. The front row, Maro Itoje and Owen Farrell are world-class. Billy Vunipola, Ben Youngs, Manu Tuilagi and Elliot Daly must step up to that level.
“Tom Curry and Sam Underhill have got to obliterate the opposition. Then England have got to assume that they make no mistakes at the weekend – no offsides, no penalties, nothing. They have got to play the perfect game.”
Owen Farrell ‘Fast and furious’
New Zealand demolished Ire
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