COMMENT:

There is no avoiding the superlatives and hype over Saturday's World Cup semifinal against New Zealand. You can try to play it cool and downbeat and repeat the usual mantras — it's just another game, it's not even the final — but we all know it's more than that.

The whole nation will come to a halt on Saturday to watch this one and rightly so. This is probably the biggest match and biggest rugby occasion in the modern history of the English game — and that includes our World Cup triumph in 2003.

England's Maro Itoje, centre, celebrates after England's win over Australia. Photo / AP
England's Maro Itoje, centre, celebrates after England's win over Australia. Photo / AP

Even now, five days out, I can feel the excitement and anticipation.

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England against the All Blacks is the classic confrontation. Every rugby fan around the world wants to see it — indeed, every sports fan is up for this. What's more, both sides are bang in form.

And on top of that is the novelty value of this fixture. We haven't seen it at the World Cup in 20 years and indeed the sides have only met once in the last five years in any sort of game. That was at Twickenham last November when England started brilliantly but blew a 15-0 lead to lose 16-15.

I love the scarcity value surrounding this confrontation, it reminds a me a little of when I was a young player and you got to see England play New Zealand about once every five years — basically when they toured over here. It was always so special.

The massive difference now, of course, is that although they have met only once during Eddie Jones' tenure, both side know almost everything there is to know about each other. The level of analysis is such that there will be very few surprises from either side on Saturday.

All Blacks hooker Dane Coles celebrates with teammates, from left, Beauden Barrett, Richie Mo'unga and Kieran Reid. Photo / Mark Mitchell
All Blacks hooker Dane Coles celebrates with teammates, from left, Beauden Barrett, Richie Mo'unga and Kieran Reid. Photo / Mark Mitchell

One thing England will know for sure is that New Zealand and Steve Hansen will not make life as easy for them as Australia did on Saturday. And that is not to detract from a cracking England performance. I listened to Michael Cheika's post-match interview and in one way I sympathised with him. I have sat in that chair after losing a World Cup quarter-final and it's a horrible place, it feels like your entire life has just caved in. And, indeed, yesterday came the news that he is to stand down as Australia coach.

But I still couldn't believe his defence of his team's side's woeful exit strategy, lack of a kicking game and the number of interceptions and turnovers they seemed to cough up in every game. "We are here to play footie," was his reply.

England will look to disrupt the All Blacks' lineout. Photo / AP
England will look to disrupt the All Blacks' lineout. Photo / AP

No, Australia were there to win a World Cup quarter-final by clever, precise, passionate rugby. Whatever it takes to win a particular game.

There will be no gifts from New Zealand. England will have to earn and manufacture every single point they score on Saturday. That's going to be extremely tough but the good news is that this England team is getting better with every match and has enormous strike power.

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England's Owen Farrell is the world's most consistent kicker, Woodward says. Photo / AP
England's Owen Farrell is the world's most consistent kicker, Woodward says. Photo / AP

New Zealand are always confident, it's part of their rugby DNA, but let's be clear here: England are the side they would have least wanted to meet in the semifinals. They know England have the power to hurt them. They won't be steamrollered up front as a disappointing Ireland were and England can hurt any side with ball in hand.

They also have the world's most reliable big-match goal kicker in Owen Farrell who, after a rare blip against Argentina, was eight from eight on Saturday. Normal service resumed.

I'm not expecting many changes in the England starting line-up. I would consider just the one and that is George Kruis to start, with Courtney Lawes reverting to the bench.

The New Zealand lineout is superb and Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock are a fantastic combination at lock — the best in the world.

All Blacks captain Kieran Read leading the charge against the Irish. Photo / Mark Mitchell
All Blacks captain Kieran Read leading the charge against the Irish. Photo / Mark Mitchell

So England need to counter those two and the best lineout combination they have is Maro Itoje and Kruis.

Both are secure on their own ball and arch-poachers of opposition ball. If they could nick three or four New Zealand throws, or even badly disrupt them, that could be the difference in a very tight match.

Lawes is the more destructive tackler in the open but Kruis is very physical in the close quarters and again this is where England might cause some damage. I'm not saying New Zealand aren't incredibly physical as well but this game will be a different level.

There are going to be huge confrontations all over the field — those mighty locks, the front rows, Ben Youngs and the excellent Aaron Smith at nine, Owen Farrell and Richie Mo'unga at 10, the flying wings, Beauden Barrett and Elliot Daly at full back.

There is so much to savour here and we have got all week to enjoy it!