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In an edited extract from his new book, Heroics & Heartbreak, Jamie Wall gives his first-hand insight into how the All Blacks’ World Cup dream came to an end, after following the team for 12 months.
For all the talk we’ve had to endure, all the thinly veiled, lazy dog-whistling designed to infuriate New Zealanders, the English have finally done it. They’ve come up with a plan that has sucked the life out of the All Blacks and thrown it back in their faces, leaving the New Zealanders flustered and wondering what just happened.
And the game hasn’t even kicked off yet. Every time the haka has been performed during the tournament, it’s had a little bit more of an edge thanks to Kieran Read and TJ Perenara’s dual leadership. Fingers hover over keyboards awaiting some new development, but this time they come crashing down due to the audacious English response. We’re sitting high up in the stands yet again, gazing down upon a full house at Yokohama International Stadium, and out in the middle the Englishmen have produced a devilishly simple yet stunningly effective move. They’ve formed an inverted V, surrounding the All Blacks on three sides. In military terms it would be a pincer movement, but in symbolic terms it immediately wrests attention off the haka itself. They’re embracing their role of sneering, confident bullies with scant regard for tradition—indeed, the first reaction is to question whether what they’re doing is even legal according to World Rugby’s guidelines.
Even if it isn’t, there is little anyone can do, although referee Nigel Owens attempts to wave the outer fringes of the English formation back behind halfway. Prop Joe Marler, who has proven himself to be never short of a word in his career, has positioned himself on the very far edge and facetiously shrugs and motions that he can’t hear Owens or understand what he’s being told to do. The haka is done without the drowning noise of ‘Swing Low’ this time. Everyone is in a bit of shock at what they’re seeing, but that’s nothing compared with what’s about to happen next. England pull a switcheroo of their own off the kick-off, with George Ford flicking the ball to Owen Farrell to send over to the opposite side of the field than expected.
Even though Aaron Smith clears for touch, the English get the possession they want straight away. The All Blacks’ perceived plan to target the lineout is absent first up, with Courtney Lawes winning uncontested ball at two and Ben Youngs sending it to the midfield. After only 50 seconds and two English rucks, the All Blacks are already creeping offside and they’re about to be caught out. Richie Mo’unga is defending one man in, out on the left wing next to George Bridge.
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