Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 7 August 2020

Rugby World Cup 2019: Maro Itoje says England 'one step closer' but warns job not done yet

England lock named man of the match for dominant display against defending champions

Maro Itoje says the job is only half done after inspiring England to an upset win over reigning champions New Zealand to clinch a place in next week's Rugby World Cup final.

Giant lock Itoje, 24, more than merited his man-of-the-match accolade with an all-action display to disrupt any flow to New Zealand's game as England secured a shock 19-7 win in Yokohama.

"Fair play to the All Blacks, they were the best team in the world for a reason, we really had to play for 80 minutes. It was a good day at the office for us," Itoje said.

"I think we're just building, game by game, week by week, we're just building. We haven't done the job yet but we're one step closer."

Itoje, alongside flankers Sam Underhill and Tom Curry, played a leading role in England's magnificent defensive and set-piece effort to build the platform for their first win over New Zealand since 2012.

England coach Eddie Jones paid credit to the All Blacks, who had won the last two World Cups, before concurring with Itoje on the need to improve again before next week's final against Wales or South Africa back at Yokohama International Stadium.

"We're playing against a great team today, Steve Hansen is a great coach, Kieran Read is a great captain," the Australian said. "I'm really excited for the boys. We've got another week in the comp, pleased about that so we can see how we can get better.

"We played our game and our discipline was outstanding. Our forwards are well-drilled and tactically aware, but we can get better by taking more opportunities."

The victory swept England into their fourth final and first since 2007, where they will seek their second victory after 2003 when they became the first, and still only, northern hemisphere country to triumph.

Make no mistake, this was no smash-and-grab from England, who took the lead with less than two minutes on the clock, centre Manu Tuilagi powering over under the posts. "We felt like we had prepared well and we started the game well," said winning captain Owen Farrell.

New Zealand, who had won 15 of the teams’ last 16 meetings, never got a foothold in the game and it is a long time since any All Black team looked so far from threatening the tryline.

They crossed it once, and that was off an England error, with Ardie Savea gobbling up an overcooked throw from Jamie George's lineout throw to make the score 13-7. But they can have no complaints after losing to England at a World Cup for the first time.

We played our game and our discipline was outstanding. Our forwards are well-drilled and tactically aware, but we can get better by taking more opportunities

England built their lead through the brilliant goalkicking of recalled fly-half George Ford, unceremoniously dropped for the quarter-final win over Australia by his coach Jones, who scored 12 points.

Farrell and his troops sent out an early message they would not be cowed by their opponents, who have not lost as World Cup match since losing to 20-18 to France at the 2007 tournament, lining up in a "V" formation - much to the chagrin of the match officials - as they performed the Haka before kick off.

The All Blacks, who barely ventured into England’s 22, would have been relieved to have reached half time only 10-0 down after Ford popped over a late penalty and a Underhill try was ruled out by the TMO.

England piled on the pressure right from the start of the second half, but suffered another TMO setback when Ben Youngs’ try was ruled out for a knock on after six minutes.

A Ford penalty made it 13-0 as New Zealand continued to make rare mistakes but they were gifted a way back into the game when Savea lapped up a gift from a lineout.

England hit back immediately though, after a huge hit on Jordie Barrett by Underhill forced a knock-on and from the subsequent attack New Zealand offended on their line again and Ford landed it to make it 16-7.

Even after injuries forced a major backline reshuffle, Jones's side kept their shape in attack and, with Underhill and Tom Curry again in devastating form, kept New Zealand on the back foot.

Ford, taking on the kicking duties from Farrell, added another to give extend England's lead to 12 points, a lead they would never relinquish.

Updated: October 26, 2019 04:46 PM

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