Rugby World Cup: Ups, down and player ratings as England beat New Zealand in the semi-final
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What a win, what a performance, what a night, well morning. England through to the World Cup final on the back of a superb 19-7 win over New Zealand and it left Herts Advertiser’s Neil Metcalfe with plenty of things to look back on with a smile.
An old lecturer of mine hailed this as "the finest team performance by an England international side I've ever seen in any sport. Every single man a titan. Astonishing".
He's not often wrong and this certainly wasn't one of those occasions.
From minute one to minute 80 England produced a performance of the highest quality. Never before have New Zealand looked so toothless and second best but that's what this England side reduced them to.
The 19-7 score is quite emphatic in itself but remember that two tries were ruled out by the TMO when the on-field decision was they were ok. Both were marginal and I'm not sure Nigel Owens was convinced by the second one. Had they counted it could easily have been 33-7 which is unthinkable against the Kiwis.
The one try that was awarded was a brilliant example of good quality rucking and the huge advantage of quick ball. It was also the perfect start but the intensity continued for the rest of the game. Flankers Tom Curry, a true superstar now after this tournament, and Sam Underhill were immense but they were bettered by Maro Itoje, simply a colossus around the park.
His fellow Harpenden St George's alumni George Ford and Owen Farrell orchestrated the whole thing beautifully as well while Manu Tuilagi has left his bad boy persona sinking into Auckland harbour and been transformed into a battering ram equipped with a cleverness, no doubt brought on by age and experience.
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There is so much to look positively on and the final itself against South Africa will see two sides with plenty of power clash head on.
England though will now be the favourites, something unimaginable at the start of the tournament. Perform like that again though and it will take a monumental effort from the Springboks to stop them.
Full-time reaction - Of all the positives to take from the game it was strangely what happened after the final whistle that delighted me more. Because quite simply there was no reaction, or very little anyway. No punching of the air, no screaming or jumping on each other, just a few smiles, pats on the backs and a steely determination to move on to the next game. It reminded me so much of 2003 and I always remember Martin Johnson saying the reason for that was they came to win the final, not the semi. Fingers crossed this is the same again this year.
Youth and experience - The scary thing about that England performance was some of these players are only just beginning their international career. The likes of Tom Curry has been a revelation but his inclusion, and the rest of his novice team-mates, have seamlessly melded with the experienced heads. Kyle Sinckler for example was brilliant and had the All Blacks in bother but then when he went off on came the older heads of Joe Marler and Dan Cole to see the game out. The experience they are winning here bodes so well for the future and remember some of the so-called older heads like Maro Itoje, simply wonderful here, are still young. The Saracens man for example turns 25 tomorrow (Monday). Still a bairn but it's frightening to think that he could feature in another two World Cups at least.
Hertfordshire rugby - What a time to be covering sport and rugby in Hertfordshire. Four of the starting 15 here have links with the county, Ford, Farrell and Itoje are former pupils of Harpenden St George's while Jamie George was born in Welwyn Garden City and grew up in Hertford. And then because of the Saracens link, players like George Kruis live in St Albans. Herts rugby can genuinely be proud of their input into some of these players but the best thing is going to be the legacy. Imagine being a kid and being told that your heroes once played at the same ground you do or live down the road. I hope that this will give the sport a shot in the arm and bring even more talented youngsters through the ranks.
There are no downs. Well ok, it is a pity this wasn't the final and that line-out throw for the All Blacks one and only score was horrendous decision making but I'm splitting hairs in a big way here. Think of me as a bit like Craig Revel-Horwood and his determination not to reward dancers on Strictly with a 10.
The injury to Willi Heinz which will keep him out of the final could be seen as a down but his replacement Ben Spencer is flying for Saracens at the moment and could arguably be in better form.
Ratings (heart): M.Vunipola 10, George 10, Sinckler 10, Itoje 10, Lawes 10, Curry 10, Underhill 10 B.Vunipola 10, Youngs 10, Ford 10, May 10, Farrell 10, Tuilagi 10, Watson 10, Daly 10.
Replacements: Cowan-Dickie 10, Marler 10, Cole 10, Kruis 10, Wilson 10, Heinz 10, Slade 10, Joseph 10.
Ratings (head): M.Vunipola 7, George 7, Sinckler 8, Itoje 10, Lawes 7, Curry 9, Underhill 9 B.Vunipola 7, Youngs 7, Ford 9, May 7, Farrell 8, Tuilagi 9, Watson 8, Daly 7.
Replacements: Cowan-Dickie 6, Marler 6, Cole 7, Kruis 6, Wilson 7, Heinz 6, Slade 6, Joseph 6.