So England will need to perform to their absolute best in order to beat New Zealand in this weekend's epic Rugby World Cup semi-final clash. That's a given. The All Blacks don't have 'all conquering' before their name for nothing.
The World Cup holders for the past eight years are without doubt the best team in the world right now. But here's the thing... England head coach Eddie Jones is a master at playing Kiwi opposition. The Aussie has been doing it, as a player and then as a coach, for decades. He knows the New Zealand culture and mindset well.
He was the one who orchestrated the Wallabies brilliant upset win over the All Blacks at the 2003 World Cup, and coached Australia to back-to-back Bledisloe Cup wins in 2001 and 2002, as well as a Tri-Nations title in 2001. Jones knows how to get the better of Kiwi rivals.
Since Eddie Jones took over England in 2015, the two countries have only played once – last year at Twickenham. New Zealand edged it 16-15, but only by the skin of their teeth. England gave the All Blacks a huge scare and had them under the pump for long periods.
Jones has been quick to heap praise on his semi-final opponents, but insisted they are beatable: “New Zealand are a great team with a great coach and a great captain but like any team they are beatable and there are ways to beat them.
“We will be investigating every possible way of how we beat them. Against any of the best teams, you have to go hard from the start. That’s going to be important for us.
“You always want to play the best and they are the best – no one can dispute that. You want to be the best in the world, you have to beat the best. For the players and coaches this is the best week of their lives and you have to enjoy it and make sure you focus on yourself and work to get better.
“If you look at their record I don’t think there’s a team that comes close to them for sustainability. They are playing in the toughest competition in the world against the best all the time. I just admire them. To do what they do from a small country is incredible.
“Name me another team in the world that plays at the absolute top level that wins so many of their games. It’s an example of what you can do. You have to admire them. But then the challenge is to beat them.”
The Sportsman has identified the three areas where Eddie Jones and England can do just that, and go on and beat the All Blacks. On Saturday in Yokohama it will come down to – defence, the breakdown and stopping the Kiwis’ offloading game.
England’s defence is strong and powerful, and it will need to be on target on the weekend. They are good at suffocating and struggling the opposition, leaving them with no time and space with the ball. They need to do that from minute one to minute 80, make all their one-on-one tackles and give the All Blacks no respite.
New Zealand’s game is assisted by fast ball and quick ruck speed. Allow Aaron Smith the chance to recycle the ball quickly and it will be game over. England need to slow the breakdown right down to limit the Kiwis’ attacking weapons. They don’t need to steal possession at every ruck, just limit their speed and ability to spread the ball across the field quickly. If the All Blacks get on a roll they are almost impossible to stop.
What New Zealand also do better than any other team in the world is keep the ball alive. Their offloading skills and support play is world-class. So often one half break ends up in a try, and breaks the back of the opposition, because the All Blacks manage to keep the attack going and support each other. England must ensure the men in black are tackled and stay tackled, unable to get an arm free to keep the pressure on.
No team is invincible, no team is unbeatable. England have the tools to achieve victory in the semi-finals, and reach their first World Cup final in 16 years. Like we said to begin with - Eddie Jones has got this...