Rugby World Cup: Defending champ New Zealand battles England for spot in final

England will aim to end New Zealand's hopes of winning a third straight Rugby World Cup during the first semifinal in Yokohama on Saturday.

George Ford and Scott Barrett will be the key players for England and New Zealand respectively during the 2019 Rugby World Cup semifinal on Saturday.   -  Getty Images

Steve Hansen wants to ensure New Zealand does not repeat past mistakes by getting caught up in the "euphoria" of a quarterfinal triumph when it battles England for a place in the Rugby World Cup 2019 showpiece.

Two-time defending champions the All Blacks are the favourites to lift the Webb Ellis Cup once again but must overcome Eddie Jones' side in Yokohama on Saturday to keep their hopes of doing so alive.

New Zealand produced a commanding display to brush aside Ireland, which started the tournament in Japan as the top-ranked side in the world, 46-14 in the last eight.

But Hansen warned against looking beyond a blockbuster semifinal with England, something he feels they have been guilty of in the past.

 

"Sometimes I think people come off the euphoria of winning the quarter-final, and then they start looking ahead at the final," said Hansen.

"I think that could have been a mistake that we've made in the past. I think we may have even done it in 2007, looking beyond the quarter-final. And when you start looking beyond where you're actually at, then your mind's not where your feet are, and you're vulnerable.

"I think that's probably why they would say it's tough, because you've just come off the euphoria of winning the quarterfinal knowing you now have an opportunity, and then you may start looking at that opportunity before you've actually earned the right to look at it."

Jones on Thursday moved away from his apparent attempts at kidology earlier this week, having claimed someone had spied on England training without accusing the All Blacks, of whom he said "the pressure will be chasing them down the street".

England has lost each of its past six Tests against New Zealand and the head coach is relishing the chance to put that right.

"It's going to be a great contest, isn't it? Two heavyweights, one dressed in black, one dressed in white. You couldn't think of a better scenario," said Jones. I think it's a great week, it's one of the most exciting weeks in world rugby."

 

"You get a press conference [with this many people] usually only when you've done something bad. We haven't done anything bad yet, so it's an exceptional week for us."

Kieran Read and Jonny May overcame injury concerns to feature in the starting XV for New Zealand and England respectively.

- PLAYERS TO WATCH -

England - George Ford

Having been dropped to the bench for the quarterfinal success over Australia, Ford will want to prove himself after returning to the starting XV as the only change. Jones highlighted the fly-half's impressive work-rate and he will want to deliver on that after replacing captain Owen Farrell, who will start at outside centre, in the number 10 shirt.

New Zealand - Scott Barrett

Hansen too only made one alteration to his line-up, with lock Barrett replacing Sam Cane in the back row. Barrett has never started an All Blacks game at flanker so it will be interesting to see if the coach's tactical decision pays dividends.

KEY OPTA FACTS

- This will be the fourth World Cup clash between England and New Zealand. The All Blacks have won each of the previous three (1991, 1995, 1999) including their only knockout encounter, which came in the semifinals of the 1995 tournament in South Africa.
- England had just 10 minutes and 34 seconds of possession in its quarterfinal victory against Australia, its lowest amount in a game since Opta has recorded this data (2010).
- The All Blacks have averaged the most points (51), tries (7.3), metres (642), clean breaks (22), defenders beaten (39) and offloads (17) of any side at this World Cup.
- Billy Vunipola is in line to win his 50th cap for England. New Zealand is the one side he has yet to beat in an England shirt (L4), notching up victories against each of the other 11 nations he has faced.

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