YOKOHAMA – England ended New Zealand’s reign as Rugby World Cup champion in the semifinals on Saturday, beating the All Blacks 19-7 to reach the final for the first time since 2007.
New Zealand was looking to win the tournament for an unprecedented third straight time this year in Japan, but an early Manu Tuilagi try put England in the driver’s seat at International Stadium Yokohama.
George Ford kicked two penalties to extend England’s lead further, before Ardie Savea hauled New Zealand back into contention with a try in the 57th minute.
But Ford landed another two penalties to restore England’s cushion with time running out for the All Blacks, and the defending champions could not find an answer as England moved into a final matchup with either South Africa or Wales on Nov. 2.
“They’re a great team,” said England head coach Eddie Jones. “They’ve won two World Cups in a row, they’ve got a great coach, great captain. So we had to battle hard today. You always go in with an idea of how you want the game to be, but it never goes exactly like that. I’ve got to give so much credit to New Zealand, the way they kept fighting right until the end.
“We’ve had two-and-a-half years to prepare. They’ve had a week. We’ve been unconsciously preparing for this game. When you engrain habits in your players, they’re easier to sustain. I think we saw some great habits from our players tonight.”
New Zealand had won every Rugby World Cup game it had played since losing to France in the quarterfinals of the 2007 tournament, but the All Blacks could not find a way to deal with England’s formidable pressure and head coach Steve Hansen will now depart with ambitions of a third straight title unfulfilled.
“I’d like to congratulate England, I think they were deserved winners tonight,” said Hansen. “You had two very, very good sides going at each other. The team that took the game won the game. We’ve got no regrets. I’m very proud of the All Blacks. I think at this tournament we played particularly well and tonight we got beaten by a better side. Sometimes you might find that sport is not fair but tonight it was.
“Having been here in 2007, it’s disappointing. There’s nothing else you can say about that. But I think the big difference from ’07 was that we stepped up to the plate today. We played as well as we possibly could. We just got beat by the better team and we have to take that on the chin.”
England made a ferocious start and scored the opening try in only the second minute. Courtney Lawes and Ford both drove England closer to the New Zealand line, and Tuilagi finished it off before Owen Farrell added the conversion.
England almost scored another just minutes later when Tuilagi intercepted and fed the ball to Jonny May, only for the winger to throw a forward pass to Farrell at the critical moment.
Referee Nigel Owens then denied England a second try in the 25th minute when he ruled that Tom Curry had crossed in front of the runner before San Underhill sprinted between the posts to touch down.
Ford landed a long penalty right before the halftime gong, and England went into the break with a 10-point lead.
Elliot Daly missed an ambitious penalty attempt to open the second half, before Owens denied England another try after a video replay. Ben Youngs had streaked over the line after selling the New Zealand defense a dummy, but Owens ruled that there had been a knock-on in the buildup.
Ford kicked a penalty to extend England’s lead further, but the All Blacks roared back into the match when Savea scored in the 57th minute. England took a lineout just meters from its own line, and Savea charged through at the back to take the ball unopposed. Richie Mo’unga landed the conversion.
Ford kicked another penalty to edge England further in front, and the 26-year-old nailed another to give his side a 12-point lead with 10 minutes remaining.
Ford missed another penalty in the 78th minute to hand New Zealand one last, desperate lifeline, but England held firm to send its traveling fans wild at the sound of the final gong.
“We picked our finishing 15 first this week, because that’s always the most crucial area when you play New Zealand,” said Jones. “And our finishers did a super job. They closed the game out, played with energy, played with discipline, and as a result, New Zealand struggled to get back in the game.
“New Zealand are the gods of rugby, so we had to take it to them. We wanted to show that we could take the game to them.”