Eddie Jones’ sunny disposition after England’s ruthless dismissal of New Zealand in their Rugby World Cup semi-final on Saturday shows no sign of diminishing
Beating the All Blacks, unbeaten in the competition since 2007, was never going to be a walk in the park. From the moment England defiantly faced down the Haka with a ‘flying V’ formation – sport’s equivalent of grabbing a tiger by the tail and hitting it with a stick – the defending champions looked somewhat miffed and that disposition was hardly helped by Manu Tuilagi’s second-minute try and George Ford’s long-range penalty which gave England a 10-0 half-time lead.
It was the first time the All Blacks had failed to score in the first half of a World Cup match; and it could have been worse. England had two tries ruled out by the video referee – Sam Underhill (correctly) and Ben Youngs (debatably) – before Ford, taking the kicking duties, made it 13-0. Ardie Savea hauled it back to 13-7 before Ford put England firmly in the driving seat with three further penalties.
It was a performance of unremitting brilliance from England who hounded New Zealand into the sort of errors they are more used to forcing on other sides.
As they prepare for another brutal confrontation against South Africa in Yokohama this week, the England coach had a couple of injury issues to ponder. But, despite needing to call up Saracens’ scrum-half Ben Spencer as replacement for hamstring victim Willi Heinz, Jones was on Monday given encouraging reports from his medical team on two key players.
Both talismanic fly-half Owen Farrell and flying winger Jonny May suffered painful dead legs against the All Blacks as they struggled to impose themselves and get back into their last-four grudge clash. However, Jones was able to report that both are showing every sign of being fit for rugby’s showpiece match this weekend.
“We had a walk through this morning (Monday) and had to tell Jonny to slow down a bit,” said Jones, who added May was “immeasurably better” than when he was recovering from a hamstring issue at the same stage last week.
More importantly, Farrell is just “a bit sore”. Jones said: “He’ll be fine. We’ve got a few others carrying bumps and bruises because it was a tough old game.”
After the game on Saturday, Jones was asked if this was England’s greatest performance in the competition. “Give it a week,” he replied, with a twinkle in his eye.
Certainly, Wales’ retiring coach Warren Gatland threw petrol on the fire when he suggested England may have already played their final. “We have seen in previous World Cups that teams sometimes play their final in semi-finals and don’t always turn up for a final,” he said after South Africa had booked their place in the final with a nervous 19-16 defeat of Wales.
Jones’ response? “You just send my best wishes to Warren to make sure he enjoys the third and fourth place pay-off,” he told reporters.
No love lost there, then.
England play South Africa in the final on Saturday 2nd November at 9am.
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