We must throw the first punch or expect to be out for the count
Jones knows that a fast start is crucial if England are to see off All Blacks in semi-final collision
Ever since Eddie Jones has come in, he has used New Zealand as England’s reference point for where he wants to take the team. That is not about copying the All Blacks – he has always wanted England to be England – but knowing what their standards are and looking to surpass them.
Ultimately, they are the No1 team in the world. Whatever the rankings say, they have been the best team on the planet for the past eight years; probably longer. If the goal is to overtake them, then you have to know what they are doing. All roads go through them if you want to be world champions.
A fast start will be crucial. Eddie talks about the hit-first mentality. Throwing the first punch, not taking a backward step, being the aggressor, taking the game to New Zealand, rather than sitting back and letting them play.
One clip Eddie has shown the squad many times is from the 2015 World Cup final. After receiving the opening kick-off, Aaron Smith puts up a box-kick. Israel Folau takes the high ball but gets smashed by Kieran Read. That one tackle sets the tone for the whole game, which is what Eddie means by the hit-first mentality. Early on, I would expect Ben Youngs to put the ball on the money, a massive chase from everyone and then let the catcher know they are going to be in for a tough day.
If you start cold then New Zealand can just take the game away from you. By the time Smith scored his second try against Ireland, it was game over. If there is one word that sums up New Zealand, it is intensity. Everything they do is quick, powerful and direct. The pressure they put on you is so immense that you do make more mistakes. Virtually every time you make an error, they capitalise. They are so ruthless.
When you look back to the last time England beat New Zealand in 2012, we just took it to them from the very first whistle. England will also have the difference-maker from that day with Manu Tuilagi in the team. You would hope that will be in the back of the minds of a few New Zealand players, which might create space for others.
So far, New Zealand have been the best team in the tournament by quite a margin. England will need a 9/10 or 10/10 to win this game. Anything short of that and New Zealand will be in the final.
Against Australia, I thought England’s performance was 8.5/10. I do not think it needed to be any higher because Australia just shot themselves in the foot over and over again. I cannot believe Michael Cheika thought that game plan was going to beat England. Whether it was naivety or arrogance, I am not sure, but by keeping the ball inside their own 22, they were playing into England’s hands.
When Australia did get into England’s half, they looked very threatening. In those situations, England’s composure was really impressive. There are always spells in matches where momentum goes away from you. The key thing is recognising when those periods are occurring, taking your medicine if necessary and focusing on making smart decisions. There was a point when Australia were on the attack and Henry Slade slowed the ball down for a couple of seconds. He conceded a penalty but saved a potential try. It was a smart decision under pressure.
In attack, England’s game was sharp and their use of multiple physical runners was excellent. You saw that for Kyle Sinckler’s try. England had been attacking in wave after wave. Then you had Kyle, Billy Vunipola and Maro Itoje all running hard, short lines, which forced the Australia defenders to make last-second decisions. Owen [Farrell] then hit a brilliant ball to Kyle, who probably runs those short lines better than anyone. Yet as much as Kyle and Owen will get the kudos, that try would not be scored without Maro and Billy running hard, genuine lines.
Overall, it was a brilliant performance, but I still do not think you have seen the best of England, simply because of the level of opposition. Australia were a significant step up from the pool stages, but New Zealand are several levels above that. I have no doubt that England are capable of reaching those heights. They will have to be incredibly physical and smart, but most of all they need to hit first.
Difference: Manu Tuilagi in England’s 2012 victory against New Zealand