Eddie Jones reaps rewards of masterplan as England end New Zealand’s Rugby World Cup dream
Halloween weekend in Yokohama is a major event for the Japanese. On Saturday night it was England who were the stuff of New Zealand’s worst nightmares.
The All Blacks will have woken up on Sunday wondering just what hit them at the International Stadium. Sam Underhill for a start. And Manu Tuilagi. And Billy Vunipola. And Courtney Lawes.
But it wasn’t just bruising blanket defence and percussive route one ball carries which reduced the world champions to rubble. It wasn’t just a towering lineout, a rumbling maul and a breakdown presence that harried New Zealand to distraction. There was pace and invention and speed of thinking too.
It was the all-round, all-encompassing game England had been preparing to take New Zealand down with since May 10, 2017.
Eddie Jones revealed after England’s finest performance under him that he had been assembling the parts for it the moment the Rugby World Cup draw was made it Kyoto in 2017, the draw that put his side on collision course with the holders at the semi-final stage.
“We had two-and-a-half years to prepare for this game,” said Jones. “The players weren’t consciously preparing for it, but sub-consciously we were garnering a game to play against New Zealand.
“That’s World Cup coaching. It was like with Japan in 2015. The crux game for Japan was playing South Africa. We had to win that game, then we would have a successful World Cup.
“For a team like England, who are a top-four ranked team, your crux game is going to be a semi-final. All the top teams prepare for the semi-final.”
New Zealand applauded off a better England side at the end of the match
The players were pawns in the game. They had no part in the grand plan. They were kept on their single-track railway. Their world was one match at a time, one day at a time. It still is.
But in the 20 hours a day England’s coach spends awake, Jones’s constantly-whirring cogs were devising the side and a style that would knock out New Zealand.
Jones had done it before at the semi-final stage with Australia in 2003 and he knew he could do it again given the raw materials at his disposal.
His masterplan was based on the English staples of setpiece strength and defence.
“Eddie said when he first came in, ‘We just want to be England,’” said Billy Vunipola.
“‘If that means that we are not as good looking as New Zealand then so be it. We are different. We play our own brand of rugby.’”
It delivered two Six Nations titles in Jones’s first two seasons in charge but Jones knew that England had to be more than flat-track bullies if they were to beat the world’s best.
Explosive power formed the heart of the strategy. Win the collisions against the Kiwis and they have less room to breathe. Why would you not use weapons like the Vunipolas and Tuilagi?
But in training the speed dial was turned up. Sessions were conducted at a pace quicker than they would face in European Test matches – All Blacks pace. Those that could not live with it were moved on.
England formed a ‘V’ shape as New Zealand did the Haka
“If you look at the evolution of this team, it started on the South Africa tour last year,” said Jones.
“We had a fairly solid team for the first two years, and we knew we had to make changes to regenerate and reinvigorate. It started in South Africa.’
Kyle Sinckler and Jamie George took over as front row starters as England moved on to multi-dimensional footballers up front who could outdo the Kiwis at their own game. Tom Curry, aged 20, was brought in as a specialist No 7.
By this summer England had two of them in the side with Sam Underhill joining Curry. The Kamikaze Kids, as Jones christened them, were born.
They were the final piece of the jigsaw and the All Blacks felt their full combined force in Yokohama.
Eddie Jones has bred a winning culture at England
They were all over New Zealand like a rash as England made an extraordinary side look ordinary.
The awesome All Blacks simply could not live with the energy and intensity England brought to bear.
“That’s how you want the team to play,” said Jones.
A grand plan had come together. And how.
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