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OPINION:The last time that the All Blacks lost a World Cup semi-final was in 2003 when John Mitchell was coach. The big man was pilloried back home. Mitchell was a new age space head, he was rude, but worst of all, he was a loser. So 16 years later comes redemption for at least one New Zealander.
The All Blacks didn’t choke, not this time, they were strangled by England’s magnificent Mitchell-coached defence. And it will surely have consequences. England’s defensive domination must have cost Ian Foster his hopes of the All Blacks job after he was so thoroughly outmanoeuvred in so big a match. The last time the All Blacks failed to score in the first half of a rugby match was the 1991 semifinal against Australia.
Most of what New Zealand tried to do, by no means all down to Foster, struck me as crazy. Why did they not attack the soft inside shoulder of the second man as Australia had successfully done. Why did they persist with all the short kick-offs? In big games you squeeze. You kick the ball deep and near to the lines. You ask England to play on their nerves. It didn’t happen. Not once.
There was also this obsessive idea that the England back three were vulnerable, but some of the kicking was dreadful. In the opening 15 minutes Aaron Smith put up a feeble box kick on the edge of England’s 22 and Beauden Barrett sent up a feeble up and under.
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That prompted Lawrence Dallaglio to wonder if the beatified Barrett was feeling the nerves. It looked that way. An intercept would have led to a try if Johnny May’s hamstring hadn’t been shot. Another pass bounced off his brother’s back and he chipped possession away. His line kicking was also short of his usual standards. A lot of New Zealand’s defensive kicks came off squiffy.
But Barrett senior was far from the only jitterer. Codie Taylor had his worst day in an All Blacks shirt and Nepo Laulala looked a bit out of his depth. George Bridge failed to keep in a penalty that would have presented no problem a week ago and Richie Mo’unga got done on the outside by Elliot Daly in the opening minute. Who in this wide world thought Daly would outplay the brilliant Beauden. But he did, comprehensively.
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