YOKOHAMA – England captain Owen Farrell credited his team’s Zen-like inner peace for carrying it into the Rugby World Cup final after ending New Zealand’s eight-year reign as champion on Saturday night.
England booked its place in its first World Cup final since 2007 after beating the All Blacks 19-7 in the semifinals at International Stadium Yokohama, and will now try to claim the Webb Ellis Cup for a second time against either South Africa or Wales at the same stadium on Nov. 2.
England took control of the semifinal from the outset with Manu Tuilagi scoring a try in the second minute, and maintained its grip throughout the match despite facing an All Blacks side that had not lost a World Cup match since 2007.
England had never beaten New Zealand at the World Cup in three previous attempts, but Farrell credited his team’s refusal to panic even when Ardie Savea scored a try midway through the second half to haul the All Blacks back into contention.
“The feeling is calm,” said Farrell. “The feeling is calm going into the games, building up into it. We feel in control of what we’re doing. Obviously that comes from our preparation, the work that we put in during the week to make sure that you feel like that, because you can’t fake that when you’re out there, especially in a big test match. When they scored points today, we were the calmest we’ve been under the posts after that, and it showed in our next actions.”
Farrell converted Tuilagi’s try before suffering a dead leg that forced him to hand kicking duties to standoff George Ford for the rest of the match. Ford then kicked a penalty to send England into halftime with a 10-0 lead, then slotted another after the break before Savea’s try gave the All Blacks a lifeline.
Ford kept his composure to land two further penalties and restore England’s cushion, and the 178-cm standoff’s cool head proved invaluable in taking the overall heat out of the All Blacks’ challenge.
“We got a bit of fast ball in the first 20 minutes and we wanted to score points that way, with the ball in hand,” said Ford, who returned to the lineup after starting England’s quarterfinal win over Australia on the bench. “I think it got to a stage maybe 18, 19 minutes in where we said ‘look, we need to get in proper control of the tempo of the game,’ and I thought we did that from then on in.
“We used our kicking game a bit more, but we use our kicking game to score points. We use it to get in better position to get the ball back, and then if a penalty or a chance to score a try presents itself, that’s the key there.”
New Zealand head coach Steve Hansen had already announced before the tournament that he would step down once it finished, and he will now bow out in the bronze medal match in Tokyo on Nov. 1 rather than the final in Yokohama a day later.
Hansen admitted that his team had been “beaten by the better side,” but he reacted angrily when a reporter from New Zealand questioned the All Blacks’ attitude.
“I think that’s quite a disrespectful question, to suggest that the All Blacks turned up not being hungry,” he said. “They’re desperate to win the game. Because I’ve asked them at halftime to get hungrier, it doesn’t mean to say they didn’t turn up hungry. There’s a big difference. If you want to spend some time outside, I’ll give you a rugby education on that one. But to turn up and say an All Blacks team comes to a semifinal of the Rugby World Cup with the amount of ability and history behind it is not hungry — that’s a pretty average question.”
England set the tone for the match by greeting New Zealand’s haka in a V-shaped formation, with prop Joe Marler encroaching into the All Blacks’ half for good measure.
New Zealand never really managed to get a foothold thereafter despite Savea’s 57th-minute try, and the now-deposed two-time defending champion must start again with a new head coach and new captain, after skipper Kieran Read joined Hansen in calling time on his All Blacks career after the tournament.
“With regards to the haka, it had no impact in the game,” said Read, who was winning his 126th cap and his 51st as captain. “That’s what they wanted to do and that’s what they did. They dominated that breakdown and their guys did a fantastic job. We couldn’t get quick ball, and that’s the difference for us. It got slowed down and we couldn’t work it in to our game. We were just chasing. They did a good job.”
England, meanwhile, will await the outcome of Sunday’s second semifinal between South Africa and Wales, and England head coach Eddie Jones believes his team will have to improve if it wants to win the trophy for the first time since 2003.
“We know that we can play better next week,” said Jones. “We’re going to have to play better next week, whoever we play against. We’re looking forward to Wales and South Africa playing a 3-3 draw. They play extra time and it’s still 3-3 so they have to play more extra time.”