- By Kevin McCarthy
How are your nerves? I strangely don’t have any ahead of the semi-final. Kind of confident the All Blacks will dispose of England and set up a shot at the three-peat.
Not that sort of arrogant confidence that a few indulged in after the blitzing of Ireland. The sort that assumes what happened there will happen again this weekend.
No, it’s more that I just think on balance the All Blacks will have too much variety to their game for England.
Don’t get me wrong. England are a serious threat, if they get to play the game the way they want to play it. A pretty good pack (although not one New Zealand would expect to be dominated by), excellent first and second five-eighths with the ability to run a very tight kicking game, some more than damaging outside backs, and good defence.
There have been some funny historical reaches in the past few days, as far back as 2003 – when England beat the All Blacks in Wellington – to suggest that is somehow what we are looking at a replay of that scenario. We’re not.
Even more of a reach is the notion that John Mitchell as the losing 2003 semi final coach is another lode of knowledge that England can draw on. Mitchell is no doubt a much better and wiser coach than 16 years ago, but you’d struggle to say there is much directly to apply from 2003 to the game this weekend.
So the semi in 2019 is its own beast. I guess my confidence is that I think the All Blacks will know full well that they would be facing England at this stage, and will have unpicked the English game to death.
Because it was interesting that a few games ago, when England were very much in the yips, they showed a distinct lack of ability to think on their feet when the game plan started to deviate from what they expected. It’s that head space the All Blacks will want to put them into this weekend.
You could put the Scott Barrett selection in that category. But it will just be the beginning.
Finally, just as Ireland found that playing NZ at home is not the same as playing them on neutral ground, England will discover that this is not Twickenham on a dank November day.
That said, the game should be close. I always have the caveat that no team wins the world cup without one squeaky bum moment when they teeter on the edge of elimination. Ours hasn’t arrived yet. Maybe it will.
As to the other semi, another odd take I’ve seen is that the winner of Wales v South Africa will benefit because England and New Zealand will have beaten each other up.
This seems a fundamental misread of the nature of both Wales and South Africa. If anything, it will be the more physical of the two. No-one is arriving at the final without a few dings in the panel work.
I’m not going to hazard a guess who however will get through. It’s too tight to call.
The All Blacks and England have played each other 41 times, with the All Blacks winning 33 times, England seven times and the one draw. The last result was a 16-15 win to the All Blacks at Twickenham in November last year. They’ve played each other three times at the Rugby World Cup, including the classic semi-final at the 1995 tournament in South Africa. They also played Pool matches in 1991 and 1999.
And finally, I’m not going to call the NPC final, although you know the Lions are going to upset the form book and win, don’t you.
The side has done really well up to this point. No doubt there will be lingering thoughts of the first round shellacking by Tasman.
But this is a final of course, and what went before doesn’t count. Go the Lions!
The All Blacks team is (kick-off 9.00pm Saturday night):
- Joe Moody (44)
2. Codie Taylor (49)
3. Nepo Laulala (24)
4. Brodie Retallick (79)
5. Samuel Whitelock (116)
6. Scott Barrett (34)
7. Ardie Savea (43)
8. Kieran Read – captain (125)
9. Aaron Smith (90)
10. Richie Mo’unga (15)
11. George Bridge (8)
12. Anton Lienert-Brown (41)
13. Jack Goodhue (12)
14. Sevu Reece (6)
15. Beauden Barrett (81)
16. Dane Coles (67)
17. Ofa Tuungafasi (34)
18. Angus Ta’avao (12)
19. Patrick Tuipulotu (28)
20. Sam Cane (66)
21. T J Perenara (63)
22. Sonny Bill Williams (56)
23. Jordie Barrett (15)