COMMENT:

Paralysis. Total paralysis, actually. Frankly, there's no other way to describe England bullying the All Blacks off the park in the Rugby World Cup semifinal in Japan last night.

The 19-7 victory doesn't do justice to the way the Poms carried out their assault and battery on the New Zealand favourites chasing their cup threepeat.

It had nothing to do with the haka. It had everything to do with England coach Eddie Jones, someone the late Sir Brian Lochore had cautioned needed to be shut up, calling him "the lil Aussie", in 2017.

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Lochore would most probably have added New Zealand-born assistant coach John Mitchell, the spurned All Blacks coach who had to reignite his career overseas, for a similar warning after fans were left marvelling England's don't-argue defence.

The Ardie Savea try, the All Blacks' only points, came through an English lineout malfunction rather than anything the Kiwis had conjured as counter punches in the second half.

You don't need a statistician to map out how the Poms had dominated possession and territory for the best part before adroitly putting up the storm shutters.

The All Blacks were rattled and looked bereft of ideas, resulting in chuck-and-hope passes to pull them out of a quagmire.

I wanted to know what All Blacks coach Steven Hansen was saying but broadcaster Spark, again, pulled the plug on the interview as he, gracious in defeat, had started congratulating England. Frustrated, I had switched to SkySport where former AB Jeff Wilson was holding court with aplomb with his panel.

Yes, as hard as it may be for fans to stomach the loss here, England, almost man to man, were the better side and thoroughly deserved their victory.

As early as late in the first half, it became painfully obvious Maro Itoje was the man of the match, something I had mentioned to mates and family members around the world via text messages and social media platforms well before the final whistle.

No doubt, the likes of Anthony Watson, Manu Tuilagi, Billy Vunipola, Sam Underhill, Courtney Lawes and Tom Curry were all pivotal cogs in the wheel but Itoje was the total specimen. I'll go as far as saying the lock should be promoted to captain England because of his raw skills, impeccable sense of timing, sixth sense and composure under pressure. He'll receive the global rugby gongs ahead of Brodie Retallick who looked a spent force not long after the second half had resumed and asks the question if he was ever fully fit during the campaign.

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In my opinion piece before the semifinal, I had alluded to how at the end of 80-plus minutes, Jones and Hansen would have walked an endless tightrope of dogged determination and stubbornness, confidence and arrogance, theatre and monologue, single-mindedness and serendipity, reality and fantasy, brilliance and blunder, humour and grumpiness, bravery and bloody mindedness as well as carry the label of character creators and soul destroyers.

Take a bow referee Nigel Owens and his sidekicks for a predominantly seamless control of a semifinal match at the International Yokohama Stadium between the All Blacks and England. Photo / AP
Take a bow referee Nigel Owens and his sidekicks for a predominantly seamless control of a semifinal match at the International Yokohama Stadium between the All Blacks and England. Photo / AP

Scribes who had spent the past four years labelling the All Blacks as the best in the world will have to backtrack on their hasty projections, just as World Rugby is in trying to make sense of its global seedings.

Needless to say the playoffs for third between the All Blacks and tonight's losers between South Africa and Wales will be just like kissing one's sister. It's a false economy and probably more an indication of what team can be bothered playing a dead rubber. The result won't offer any panacea to New Zealand's ills.

With some of the keyboard warriors injudiciously throwing darts already, I say referee Nigel Owens and his sidekicks take a bow for yet another superb performance.

My only gripe is the Tiddly Winks treatment of All Black Sam Whitelock who was lucky to have had the benefit of tier-one diplomacy when he "shoved" English pivot Owen Farrell in the face after the whistle had gone. Dress up Whitelock's lack of discipline any way you like but he broke the cardinal rule of making contact with a player's head, even if Farrell may have been milking it. It would have been a yellow card for most other teams at the cup.

If anything, it was a great snapshot of the lack of leadership skills in the All Blacks pack when push came to shove. Back-up skipper Whitelock should have known better.

Where was skipper Kieran Read, a great player at his prime two years ago, but outplayed last night?

Well, was his captaincy that good against Ireland or were Joe Schmidt's men having a pretty poor day at the office?

The script to the Barrett Brothers Bromance should be torn and chucked into the bin for now. Neither Beauden, Scott nor Jordie created an impression on the big night. Fans will have a field day revisiting the cup squad selections.

 The script on the Barrett Brothers Bromance should be torn and biffed into a bin for now because it fell horribly flat in the Rugby World Cup semifinal in Yokohama, Japan, last night. Photo / AP
The script on the Barrett Brothers Bromance should be torn and biffed into a bin for now because it fell horribly flat in the Rugby World Cup semifinal in Yokohama, Japan, last night. Photo / AP

Hansen's cloak of excellence will show some fraying at the seams because his mad scientist's experiments have fallen flat. Conversely, Jones' dissected frog on the Petrie dish has turned blue in the litmus paper test while Shag's has turned red to reflect acidic qualities.

The All Blacks mentor's ramblings will now be rendered monologues, his shuffling of the starting XV as bloody mindedness and disenfranchising players such as Reiko Ioane and Ngani Laumape as a soul destroyer who gave his class pets a fitting farewell at the expense of a three peat.

Hauling in TV 3 presenter Andrew Gourdie for a "disrespectful" question predictably sees him trip on the intangible razor-edge wire of eccentric behaviour Michael Cheika epitomises. It was a legitimate question and warranted a better response than what Read had offered, if accountability remains an All Blacks edict, rather than a meet-you-in-the-carpark invite supposedly in an act of chivalry.


Hansen's England counterpart's servings, amid impish expressions, will be deemed theatre, single-mindedness, bravery and visionary on the platform of a creator of characters.

If England were better, then it's only logical to assume Jones and Mitchell are more astute than Shag and Ian Foster and the latter's chances of becoming head coach may have taken a knock.

Again there's resounding proof that all the results and records between World Cups have no substance when teams fuel themselves on passion and years of planning to forgo all the trinkets over that duration.

The semifinal was the All Blacks' biggest defeat, more than the one at the hands of France in 2007 because this time the team were supposed to have shown some attributes of excellence.

Just as good teams and coaches don't become bad after a crucial loss, Hansen and the ABs still have a "AAA" rating if the Standard & Poor's system is employed. It's just that England have also barged their way into the cockpit.

Like it or not, it wasn't just the Poms who prevailed last night in doing the unthinkable because rugby is the biggest winner, no matter who lifts the Webb Ellis Cup next weekend.