Power game key for England

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That was the view of former All Blacks first five-eighths and Harlequins star Nick Evans.

 

In his Guardian column, Evans said the decisive factor would be what happens should the All Blacks stop England's power game.

 

"Looking back at the first Test of the Lions tour two years ago, all the talk was that the Lions had the edge up front but that is where the All Blacks took them on and why they won the game," he said.

 

England were capable of denying New Zealand the ball they thrived on and it wasn't only through flankers Tom Curry and Sam Underhill.

 

If New Zealand were able to achieve quick ball that allowed forwards like lock Brodie Retallick and prop Joe Moody to run onto the ball and to win collisions. In the quarterfinal that meant Ireland had to check their runs and were left stationary when receiving ball.

 

"If England cannot get their power game going, get their big carriers over the gain line and get the ball wide after two or three phases, then I wonder how they will react. Only [first five-eighths] George Ford has the creativity and the ability to up the tempo from the bench," he said.

 

At the same time New Zealand couldn't allow England to start building a lead because as they had shown against Australia, once they got in front they did everything they needed to remain in control.

"It is not always pretty but it works, especially in a World Cup semifinal.

 

"As a result I expect New Zealand to have a massive focus on slowing down England's power game. They'll be getting off the line and trying to spook the distributors and ensuring that the ball does not get to the outside channels.

 

"They will in effect try to say to England: 'That isn't working, so what else have you got? How can you cope if the game becomes unstructured?'" he said.

 

Evans said New Zealand's defence had also been impressive.

 

"It isn't talked about all that much; most people concentrate on their attack, their ability to create things, to be ruthless from opponents' mistakes, but their defence was first-class against Ireland. I saw an extra edge to their line speed.

 

"There was not a lot of creativity from Ireland which made it easier, but New Zealand's tight five – notably Retallick, Sam Whitelock, Moody – put a lot of pressure on their attack and they lost all their go-forward.

"We're going to see two extremely well-organised defences and it will be fascinating to watch both of them try to nullify each other's attack," he said.

 

Evans said he couldn't see England changing too much. Their line speed would probably be a step up and he believed they would target the All Blacks at lineout time.

 

"They will look to control territory and keep the ball in the right areas of the field, so being able to disrupt New Zealand's lineout could be very significant," he said.

 

The All Blacks would be looking for the game to become unstructured, and they might have to wait quite a while for that.

 

"They will have to be patient but their ability to do that against Ireland impressed me. They did not force things; they realised when the momentum had been lost and they just needed to keep chipping away until it built back up again and then strike," he said.

 

Evans said he was backing the All Blacks but it was the toss of a coin.

 

"It's such an evenly matched semifinal – a classic North versus South battle – and whichever team are able to impose their style of how they want the game to be played will end up in the final," he said.

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