England knocked the All Blacks out of their thoroughbred stride with their tackling as the cool kids of world rugby lost the plot but the seeds of a famous victory were sown before a ball was even kicked.
The Haka is such a part of All Blacks mythology that to disturb it is to play with fire. When Wales performed a stare-out at the Haka in Cardiff in 2008, refusing to yield, they sent waves of electricity around the Millennium Stadium. Unfortunately that electricity kick-started the All Blacks into a ferocious start which Wales never recovered from.
Ireland captain Willie Anderson led an ill-fated arrowhead march towards the Haka in 1989 – and came out a comfortable second best.
England’s gamble paid off.
The reverse arrow formation they came up with captain Owen Farrell at its point, hands on hips, smirking, was something new for the Kiwis. Through their eyeline, with Joe Marler encroaching to the right and Billy Vunipola to the left, it must have felt like they were being corralled.
Referee Nigel Owens asked them to go back behind the halfway line as is the protocol. Marler was going nowhere.
Mini-win to England.
“We didn’t want to just stand there and let them come to us,” said Farrell. “We wanted to keep a respectful distance and respect it but we didn’t want to stand in a flat line.”
It was a night for the front foot and England wanted to be on it from the start.
“We didn’t mean any disrespect but we wanted to send a message that we were up for the challenge,” said prop Mako Vunipola. “We also wanted to put ourselves under a bit of pressure to back it up.”
It was the team in white rather than the team in black that drew energy from their refusal to face the Haka in a subservient line.
It was England who were lifted to new heights and 76 seconds after a trick kick-off and some thunderous ball carrying Manu Tuilagi was over for a statement try.
The sun had not yet set on snow-capped Mount Fuji in the far distance and England were ahead.
The travelling England fans inside Yokohama Stadium exploded; the All Blacks support – a large proportion of it Japanese – were stunned.
The locals love the New Zealand style and the fact that they are serial winners. Or they were.
If the Tuilagi try had been one blaze of glory then it would have counted for nothing but it set the tone for what followed – England’s finest performance under Eddie Jones.
A half time lead of 10-0 was incredible. Not for seven years – since England last beat them at Twickenham had New Zealand – gone scoreless throughout a first half.
Under fire from all angles from England’s cannonball defence New Zealand crumbled rather than came together thereafter.
England were simply relentless.
The rattled All Blacks were pressured into mistake after mistake and George Ford’s right boot did the rest.
When the final gong was struck and Swing Low swept around Yokohama the reality dawned. The champions were out, England go on.
Rugby union will have a new emperor in Japan next weekend. And on this evidence it will be England.