Opinion: Dominant England set the tone from the off to dump the All Blacks out of World Cup

New Zealand players appear dejected during their semi-final defeat to England. Photo credit: Adam Davy/PA Wire
New Zealand players appear dejected during their semi-final defeat to England. Photo credit: Adam Davy/PA Wire
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It was a ridiculous display.

England dethroned the reigning back-to-back World champions, New Zealand, with an inspirational display on Saturday.

It was the All Blacks’ first defeat in the World Cup since a quarter-final loss to France in Cardiff in the 2007 edition.

The 19-7 scoreline probably flattered the Kiwis in the end, England completely dominating across the board and deservedly going through this Saturday’s final where they meet South Africa who edged out Wales 19-16 yesterday.

For England, like Ireland in 2018 when they defeated the All Blacks in Dublin, never took a step back, starting with facing the Haka.

Those in Dublin will recall Ireland taking a step forward to meet the challenge of the Haka. England on Saturday formed a V shape, encroaching into the defending champions half. Asked to step back by the officials, they refused, and the tone was set.

Three minutes later England were 7-0 ahead and never looked back.

Leading from early on as they displayed unshakeable confidence and delivered on an intelligent game plan that suffocated the Kiwis.

England delivered a physically powerful performance, interspersed with some classy attacking play and calm strategic decision-making from their 10-12 combination of George Ford and Owen Farrell.

The Roses pack, led by Maro Itoje, Kyle Sinckler and Sam Underhill, in particular, were amazingly strong as they offered superb lineout defence, thunderous tackles, huge ball-carrying and deft handling skills.

New Zealand hardly fired a shot, but took defeat humbly in the end and now looking forward to a hit out with Wales for the bronze medal on Friday. For the Welsh, they left everything on the pitch as they lost 19-16 to the fancied Springboks.

In contrast to the previous day’s semi-final, the second was an arm wrestle, quite scrappy at times, but South Africa’s guile was to get them over the line.

The Boks will now look to equal New Zealand’s record of three outright wins when they meet England, a repeat of the 2007 showdown, which as I highlighted earlier was the last time the All Blacks lost a World Cup match.

GUINNESS PRO14: Ulster secured their third win from four of the new Guinness PRO14 campaign, but in some ways, like the victory in Port Elizabeth over Southern Kings, the 23-14 home success against Cardiff Blues was underwhelming. It is perhaps a sign of the level of expectation there is now with this Ulster squad that we are bemoaning a victory.

Yes, another W in the column is important, particularly during this World Cup period when teams are missing star internationals, but there are still standards to be maintained.

The concerning thing for Ulster at present is that while they get out of the blocks quickly enough - evident in their last two games - they are unable to really put their foot on the opposition’s throat and go for the kill in the second half.

Ulster did register the bonus point victory in South Africa against the Kings. Against Cardiff on Friday night at Kingspan Stadium they were in another strong position 17-0 ahead going into the break with two tries registered. But they failed to kick on and indeed at one stage had allowed the Welsh visitors to within a score, before closing the game out well in the last 10 minutes to secure the win.

All the clubs are missing key players - well perhaps not the Scottish now - due to the World Cup and while Ireland’s exit came last weekend, it will be unlikely that Iain Henderson and Jacob Stockdale will feature for another two weeks when Ulster go to Munster.

That of course is the final hit out before a new European Champions Cup campaign.

Ulster were one of those to dine at the top table last season when they made the quarter-finals and pushed holders Leinster all the way in Dublin. Ulster also made the knockout stages of the PRO14. There are standards expected from sides who attain that level and certainly on Friday night, Ulster came up short.

You could see the frustration on head coach Dan McFarland’s face when the cameras focused on the coaching box, and again after the game there was a degree of annoyance in voice that his side had not pushed on in the second half having given themselves the platform they did.

There are expectations on this Ulster squad - which certainly looks in good nick, and they play a high standard of rugby as was seen in the quality of the tries and from certain individuals.

But if Ulster are to repeat their feat of 2019 in Europe in 2020, or better it, then they have to keep control of games and not let them slip as they did for periods against The Kings and Cardiff.

Better sides will punish them sorely, as the Cheetahs did three weeks ago, and Ulster must find a way to stop the turnovers, improve their discipline and just be more accurate and clinical when they have the opportunity.

Zebre are the visitors to Belfast this weekend, Ulster will want to put the Italian side away with a solid performance over 80 minutes.

That will then set them up for a tough away game against Provincial rivals Munster, before the European trail begins away to Bath and home to Clermont on the following two weekends.

Friday night’s game was also the start of a demanding schedule of 13 straight games for Ulster when strength in depth will be really tested.

The management of the squad will be tested, but Ulster have been able to give those on the periphery more game time in the past few weeks which should stand them in good stead going forwards.

Elsewhere, Connacht became the first side to down the rampant Cheetahs, a last gasp score giving the Western Province a 24-22 win over the South Africans.

It was the main talking point from the fourth round of matches, alongside Leinster’s 3-0 win over Zebre in Italy - not a match you would wanted to be filing 800 words from.

The Italian side come to Belfast this weekend, Ulster will have made their notes.