England/New Zealand 2019 Rugby World Cup semi-final — the end of a rugby era
I never thought I would say this but —
Defending champions New Zealand are out of the world cup. England are just one win away from reliving the glories of 2003 and lifting the Webb Ellis cup for the second time.
With England’s victory, the mythology of the invincible All Blacks has finally been broken. Prior to yesterday, since 2010, New Zealand had won 112 international matches — and lost just 11. They have been hailed without argument as the “most dominant team in the history of the world.”
But the age of Kiwi rugby supremacy is now over.
To be sure, New Zealand have been beaten before; Ireland and South Africa downed them last year, and Australia last summer.
But this was different. For a start, there is the fact that the opposition was England. Playing England is about history, it is about settling old scores. Even England coach Eddie Jones had admitted before the game that his team was the “most disliked team in the world.” Teams are just generally more up for battering the English.
Then there is the fact that those defeats to Ireland, South Africa and Australia had been part of a four-year working process to conjure up a world cup winning side. Every team experiments with selection and structure throughout this process. Occasionally this doesn’t pull off and teams learn lessons on the back of defeats.
This clash with England was a World Cup knockout game; everything they had done since November 2015 had been in preparation for this moment. The All Blacks put out a team to win (or, at least, they hoped could win).
Finally, New Zealand’s record, perhaps justifiably, created an aura of invincibility around them which had real consequences on the pitch. Ensorcelled and rattled, teams played to survive rather than to win. If they failed to clock up early points, the All Blacks started to build a lead, which few teams were capable of overturning. If they did, they failed to put daylight (say, 14 points) between the two teams, as England had struggled to do in their encounter with them at Twickenham last year. The All Blacks would then claw their way back into the game, ruthlessly exploiting gaps and vulnerabilities as…