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The All Blacks’ reign as world champions has come to a sensational end in Yokohama tonight, beaten 19-7 by a fired up England side.
It came off the back of an exceptionally committed performance by the English, who bravely defended and chanced their arm to perfection. Make no mistake - the All Blacks were very much the second best team on the park tonight, and thoroughly deserved to lose.
It was the English who made the first statement, before the game had even kicked off. Instead of lining up to face the haka on their own 10-metre line as World Rugby regulations state, the English formed an inverted wedge to attempt to encircle the All Black rendition of Kapa o Pango.
They carried on that spirit into the opening exchanges of the game and scored the first try after a flurry of attack. A break by Anthony Watson down the left wing opened up space for the English forwards to drive close to the line, then Manu Tuilagi finished a strong carry by Courtney Lawes.
England kept up their high tempo approach, dominating territory and possession for the next 10 minutes. They should have had another try, ironically when the All Blacks finally got their hands on the ball and attacked. Tuilagi intercepted a pass and Owen Farrell quickly moved the ball to Jonny May, however he was gunned down by Scott Barrett of all people. Brodie Retallick then came in to make a crucial steal and snuff out the chance.
From there the All Blacks slowly worked their way back into the match, but the English were committed to hitting every ruck like their lives depended on it. Watson was proving to be a real handful for George Bridge, and he yet again set them up for a chance that should have ended in a try. Tom Curry slipped through a gap in the All Black 22, however it was rubbed out by the TMO for a huge shepherd by Kyle Sinckler.
Desperate English defence kept out the first real All Black attack of the game, when Scott Barrett put Retallick through a gap that led to Jack Goodhue being bundled into touch 10 metres out from the English line.
That’s about as good as it got in the first half, and George Ford knocked over a 50 metre penalty as the hooter went to push the English out to a 10-0 lead.
England were awarded a kickable penalty in the 45th minute, but opted for the lineout. The gamble looked to have paid off when Ben Youngs slipped through a gap to apparently score next to the posts. But, once again, the TMO was to the rescue for the All Blacks as it was confirmed that there was a slight knock-on in the build up. However, the English kept the heat on and won another penalty in front for Ford to easily turn into a 13-0 lead.
As the clock kept ticking, the All Blacks’ chances of defending their World Cup title seemed to be slipping further and further away. Then came what you could argue was the first English blemish of the game, after Sonny Bill Williams had come off the bench to free up space for Sevu Reece to go close in the corner. While he did not score, Jamie George overthrew the lineout and the ball fell straight into Ardie Savea’s hands for him to fall over the line and score the All Blacks’ first points.
Ford then edged the English back out to a two score lead with another penalty in the 63rd minute, then again in the 69th. Tensions then boiled over when the writing was on the wall for the All Blacks, with Sam Whitelock getting penalised for a needless off the ball hit.
From there, the English just needed to play smart, which is what they had been doing all game anyway. Tackles were made, kicks were put into the corner, and with five minutes to go they could afford to start thinking about the final in a week’s time. The final whistle was met with jubilation from the English, who have reversed their ignominious pool play exit four years ago.
The All Blacks now have a week to ponder where it all went wrong. Last week Steve Hansen called the third and fourth playoff game the ‘loser final’, now he has to eat those words as it will be his team playing in it.
England 19 (M Tuilagi try; G Ford 4 pen, O Farrell con)
All Blacks 7 (A Savea try, R Mo’unga con)
HT: 10-0 England