England’s breakdown work destroyed New Zealand’s game plan

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England cruised to another Rugby World Cup final, shoving Steve Hansen’s men to one side as they went. Disruption was key to the victory and the back row led the charge.

Robert Rees takes a look at just where England got it right.

England set the tone with selection

Eddie Jones could have been forgiven if he had brought in George Kruis for Courtney Lawes to attack New Zealand’s lineout.

A small change but an important one that never took place. In fact, it was to be Steve Hansen who chased the team selection, going for an added lineout receiver instead of a back row jackaler. This influenced the breakdown throughout and left England with the ultimate platform to play off, strangling New Zealand of any front-foot ball.

The team selection’s left New Zealand chasing the game from kick off and they never recovered.

Breakdown ripped apart at no cost to lineout

Now, many a side would have to choose to either attack the breakdown or the lineout. Not England! With Lawes and Itoje sitting in the boiler house they were able to do both, and comfortably.

Maro Itoje’s Man of the Match performance was a game for the ages. Stealing two All Blacks’ lineouts in the first half along with his breakdown disruption proved a key facet of the English game plan that saw them defeat New Zealand for the first time at a World Cup.

Courtney Lawes also proved a strong lineout option whilst adding the threat at each ruck.

By having the extra options who cover both areas England could remain with their usual back row of Tom Curry, Sam Underhill and Billy Vunipola. Something New Zealand didn’t manage to balance.

England have found a balanced back row

Four years ago, at their own World Cup, England hadn’t a clue who their back row was going to be one game from the next.

One World Cup on and England firmly know where they are and have a back row that’ll compete with the best in the world. Underhill and Curry are world class at gaining turnovers and New Zealand never managed to get over that.

It limited Hansen’s men to ‘back-foot ball’ and returning kicks from deep. This just further boosted England’s stranglehold on the game. As demonstrated by Sevu Reece’s interception which lead to Ben Youngs’ disallowed try. All pressure which forced errors from New Zealand.

Hansen got flankers selection wrong

It’s not often we make that statement. The first loss in a Rugby World Cup by an All Blacks team since 2007.

Scoreless in the first half for the first time since 2012, incidentally that was also against England.

Going with Scott Barrett over Sam Cane was costly. It gave England a relatively unchallenged platform to compete with and when Cane did come on at half time, he was ineffective. The changes may not have switched the result but the way it fell into place for New Zealand it’s very much a taste of ‘what if.’

Breakdown penalty count falls on the right side

All too often, the penalty count for England suffers at the breakdown. Not today. This was executed to perfection and created penalties for themselves, rather than their opposition.

To have conquered this area of the game at such a crucial stage of the tournament will be pleasing for Eddie Jones. He wll be hoping they can do the same against either Wales of South Africa in a week’s time.

Semifinal two: Wales v South Africa – Sunday October 27. Yokohama


England 19 – Try: Manu Tuilagi; Conversion: Owen Farrell, Penalties: George Ford (4)

All Blacks 7 – Try: Ardie Savea; Con: Richie Mo’unga


“Main photo credit”