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England have moved on

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“We’ve spoken over the eight weeks about taking every day as it comes and not looking too far ahead and that’s what we have managed so far.”

Englands Tom Curry (right) and teammates celebrate after winning the Rugby World Cup 2019 semi-final match against New Zealand on Saturday. Picture: EPA / Franck Robichon

England’s players woke up in their Tokyo Disneyland hotel yesterday and recognised their amazing 19-7 semi-final victory over New Zealand was no fairy tale, but a performance based on meticulous preparation and superb execution.

Pundits, journalists and fans around the world were falling over themselves to rain down compliments on Eddie Jones’ team, who utterly outplayed a side who had not lost a World Cup game since the 2007 quarter-finals.

“This is a team-defining performance,” former England flyhalf-turned BBC pundit Paul Grayson said of Saturday’s win. “They’ve now played at a level that made the best team in the world look like they hadn’t got a clue. Tactically, mentally, physically, they tore them to shreds.”

Euphoria

England’s players and coaching staff, however, were avoiding the euphoria, well aware that defeat to the Springboks in this weekend’s final would put an entirely different complexion on Saturday’s victory.

“Going into the game, building up to it, we felt in control of what we’re doing and that comes from our preparation,” said captain Owen Farrell. “The work that we put in, in the week – you can’t fake that when you’re out there in a big Test match.”

Flank Sam Underhill, who was again superb in forcing the All Blacks onto the back foot at the breakdown, said: “You have to celebrate your wins, but we still have our feet on the ground. It’s not something we’re going to get carried away with.

“We’ve spoken over the eight weeks about taking every day as it comes and not looking too far ahead and that’s what we have managed so far.”

His similarly impressive flank partner Tom Curry was equally grounded. “You have to take the occasion in and not let it pass you by but control is massive to our game and we have to make sure we deliver that again,” said the 21-year-old. “The World Cup is such a fast-moving pace we have to shift our focus quickly onto South Africa.”

Lock Maro Itoje, Man of the Match after another performance of astonishing energy, was also not about to sit on his laurels.

“I think I can be more engaged in the game, be more in the moment,” he said of his own contribution. “I think if I do that, hopefully I can still improve a little bit.”

Jones, who lost the 2003 final to England when coach of Australia, declined to be drawn to comparing the performance and was fully focused on the one remaining step.

“We’re not historians, we don’t know, but we know we can play better this week,” he said when asked where Saturday’s match ranked.

“We wanted to be the best team in the world and we’re not yet. But now we’ve got an opportunity to play in a game where we could be.”

Saracens scrumhalf Ben Spencer, who has 20 minutes of Test rugby to his name, is set for a shock place on England’s bench for the World Cup final after Willi Heinz was ruled out after damaging a hamstring on Saturday.

Heinz, himself a surprise selection in the World Cup squad and who made his debut in August, replaced Ben Youngs just after an hour and was visibly hobbling by the end.

England, who brought only two number 9s to the tournament, announced yesterday that Spencer would join the squad in Japan today as an official injury replacement.

Reuters