League: Charge of heavy brigades

By Michael Brown

World Cup semi between NZ and England will pit two huge packs against each other.

Sonny Bill Williams leads the way in offloads. Photo / Getty Images
Sonny Bill Williams leads the way in offloads. Photo / Getty Images

Sunday morning's World Cup semifinal between England and New Zealand is being billed as a battle of the heavyweights and it's an appropriate description when you consider the relative size of the forward packs each side will put out.

The Kiwis have arguably the most formidable pack in the tournament, with the likes of Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Ben Matulino and Sonny Bill Williams. It's one with power and skill and a large part of New Zealand's game plan is based on forward dominance.

But England won't be intimidated. They have the Burgess clan - Sam and Tom are the lightest of the three at 116kg - and workhorse front-rower James Graham.

In fact, England's starting pack in their quarter-final against France was slightly heavier than New Zealand's at 625kg to the Kiwis' 620kg and they also brought George Burgess and his 120kg frame off the bench.

England and New Zealand have taken a different approach to Australia, who have opted for a more mobile pack, and it's helped by the slow play-the-balls seen so far at this World Cup and 12 interchanges allowed in the international game.

There will be a number of intriguing matchups on Sunday, not least of them the one between Williams and Sam Burgess. Williams will play on the right side, Burgess on the left.

Williams leads the tournament in offloads with 13 (Burgess has five) while Burgess is third among forwards for tackle breaks with 16 (Williams has 14).

"They have a lot of big boys but we should be able to match them," Matulino said. "They are going all right in the tournament and so are we.

"Sam Burgess is in the top three forwards in the game at the moment. You know what he's going to bring because he brings it every week in the NRL. He's going to come out and hit hard and run hard.

"James Graham is a workhorse. He tackles and runs all day. We have a little bit of insight but our track record against them in England isn't too good so we are the underdogs."

The Kiwis have not beaten England in the UK since 2005 and Matulino has been involved in the last two tours. He debuted in the unsuccessful 2009 Four Nations, when the Kiwis won only one game against France, and returned for their poor 2011 campaign when their only win was against Wales.

He had a great season in 2012, when he was the Warriors' Player of the Year, but his form dipped in 2013.

"I think I'm playing a bit better [at the World Cup] than what I was in the NRL," he said. "I'm a lot more confident playing alongside these boys.

"Everyone is driving each other in this team. Sonny is probably leading the way. When he does stuff, people tend to copy and it rubs off on the others."

Kiwis coach Stephen Kearney said last week's side against Scotland was close to his favoured 17 but there is still a question mark around the fourth front-rower with Sam Kasiano and Sam Moa going head-to-head. Moa was preferred last week over Kasiano, who had played in all three games on tour and was in need of a rest.

If Kasiano was to play, his 1.96m and 122kg frame - it's closer to 130kg - would only add to a weighty match.

- APNZ

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