YOKOHAMA – England fullback Elliot Daly says his team is more united than ever as it prepares to face New Zealand in Saturday’s Rugby World Cup semifinal.
“We talk about togetherness all the time, and I haven’t felt this together as a team in any team I’ve played in,” Daly said Friday, after England had finished training at a rain-lashed International Stadium Yokohama. “We’ve been together a while now and we’re just having fun, on and off the pitch. Hopefully that shows when we play games. It’s definitely the most together we’ve been.”
England will face two-time defending champion New Zealand in Yokohama on Saturday night for a place in the World Cup final, with the English looking to reach the tournament’s showpiece game for the first time since 2007.
England has been steadily building momentum over the past month in Japan, starting its campaign with straightforward wins over Tonga and the United States before easing past Argentina, then shrugging off the disruption of a canceled game against France to beat Australia 40-16 in last Saturday’s quarterfinal.
New Zealand will undoubtedly pose a sterner challenge on Saturday, but England lock Courtney Lawes believes his team has enough quality to spring an upset.
“We’re excited,” said Lawes, who has kept his place in the starting lineup ahead of George Kruis. “We’re excited for the challenge. None of us have played in a World Cup semifinal before so it’s going to be a great game. We’re just very, very excited to get out there.
“They’ve got a great pack. I think that they’ve got a lot of great players across the board but so have we. You’ve got two of the best packs in the world going up against each other tomorrow, and it will be a good, tough contest.”
England and New Zealand last met at Twickenham in November 2018, with the All Blacks claiming a 16-15 win after referee Marius Jonker had denied England a late try for an offside infringement.
Daly will have an idea of what to expect on Saturday having played in last year’s game, but the fullback warned that the All Blacks specialize in the unpredictable and have a back three of Beauden Barrett, George Bridge and Sevu Reece that is a cut above most others at the tournament.
“I think playing against the All Blacks before, you’ve just got to anticipate everything,” said Daly. “They’ve obviously got some quality players who might think a little bit differently from other teams you’ve played against. It’s just anticipating on the run and making sure you’re always in the game.
“You look around the world at the moment, and some of the best teams in the world have very exciting back threes. Obviously, Beauden at the back is pretty experienced. George Bridge has come in for them and done really well, and Sevu Reece as well. So we’re looking forward to the challenge. I haven’t played against two of them before, but it will be interesting.”
England head coach Eddie Jones has reshuffled his own team’s back line, with George Ford returning to standoff and captain Owen Farrell moving across to inside center to accommodate him.
Ford and Farrell played in those positions for most of the pool stage before Farrell took over in the No. 10 shirt for the quarterfinal against Australia, but Daly believes the team has enough experience to adapt to the changes.
“We have played together a lot now,” he said. “There are changes from the last game, but the 10, 12 and 13 have played a lot together and Fordy and Faz (Farrell) have played a lot of rugby together as well. They know each other better than anybody going into this test match and you know what to expect of them. It’s probably us communicating with them to make sure we get the best out of them.”
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5