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It is no exaggeration to say that England’s remarkable win over New Zealand was one of the best games of rugby I have ever seen. In my opinion it was comfortably England’s best performance of the professional era, and I am still stunned by the way this extraordinary game unfolded. I had predicted England to win by five, but they utterly dominated the game in a way that was not reflected on the scoreboard.
In a lifetime of watching the All Blacks I have seen them beaten plenty of times, but I have never seen them so comprehensively outplayed. It is all the more remarkable because this is an excellent New Zealand side, but they floundered because the players so rarely find themselves in this position and struggled to work out clear alternatives. This was an 80-minute onslaught from England.
For England to inflict New Zealand’s first World Cup defeat in 12 years in that fashion, completely controlling the game from the kick-off to the final whistle, is unprecedented. This was a technical and tactical masterclass in which England had a complete appreciation of what they were trying to achieve. Eddie Jones, take a bow.
Their attitude was exemplified at the final whistle. Of course there were celebrations and an obvious sense of relief, but there was no punching of the air, no hint they saw this as some sort of end goal, simply a recognition that they had navigated one important staging point on the road to their final destination. I loved that.
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While there was incredible tactical nuance to this win, the reasons for England’s victory can also be broken down into three key factors. The first was that they consistently won the collisions, especially up front where their pack were superb and forced a remarkable 16 turnovers.
The second was a beautifully acute kicking game and aggressive kick-chase which allowed George Ford and Owen Farrell to turn the front-foot ball provided by their forwards into match-winning field position. Thirdly, England’s line speed, physicality and virtually flawless first-up tackling in defence left New Zealand playing on the back foot with nowhere to go.
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