In Review

Rugby World Cup semi-final: England vs. New Zealand preview, predictions, team news, starting XVs, UK time

George Ford is recalled by England and the All Blacks gamble on their selection

England vs. New Zealand

  • What: Rugby World Cup first semi-final  
  • When: Saturday 26 October  
  • Where: International Stadium, Yokohama  
  • UK start time: 9am  
  • TV coverage: live on ITV from 7.30am  
  • Match betting odds: England to win 5/2; NZ to win 2/5; draw 28/1

New Zealand head coach Steve Hansen has sprung a surprise in his selection for Saturday’s Rugby World Cup semi-final against England by bringing in Scott Barrett ahead of Sam Cane on the flank.

Describing it as a “bold call”, the New Zealand Herald says the change could “throw a spanner into the works of England’s plan”. 

The England flankers Sam Underhill and Tom Curry play in the same tearaway mould as Cane, but the towering Barrett is more a second row than a flanker and will give the “All Blacks added punch at lineout time”. 

Barrett is also swift in the loose for such a big man, but Hansen was honest in analysing his choice. 

“There’s no doubt that this is a huge game and there’s a lot of excitement around it,” he told reporters. “We’re really looking forward to this opportunity. It’s all about this game and the moments it will bring. 

“In these moments, the word pressure is bandied around quite readily. However, that pressure is always there whenever you play quality opposition, regardless of who you are.”

Cane is able

Cane has started the last 20 Tests for the All Blacks but he made way for Barrett at half-time in the thumping quarter-final win over Ireland.

His omission, the only change to the NZ side that beat the Irish, will see Ardie Savea start at seven and Barrett at six, with captain Kieran Read at No.8. 

Cane, according to the NZ Herald, has “rarely put a foot wrong in the Test arena” since taking the No.7 jersey from the legendary Richie McCraw, and it’s a decision that could see Hansen hailed as a genius or derided as a fool - depending on how his new-look back-row goes against England’s.

Jones rolls the dice

England have also taken a punt in their starting XV with head coach Eddie Jones deciding that George Ford is too good to have on the bench. 

The Leicester fly-half - who started the group games but missed out in the quarter-final against Australia - returns to the fold at No.10 with England captain Owen Farrell moving to inside centre alongside Manu Tuilagi. Henry Slade drops to the bench.

It had been claimed, in The Daily Telegraph, that as well as bringing back Ford, Jones would recall George Kruis in place of Courtney Lawes in the second-row. 

That hasn’t happened. Lawes keeps his place, which means England will have more presence in the loose and in defence. Lawes is a cross between a lock and flanker whereas Kruis is an out-and-out bulky second row. 

Given New Zealand’s earlier team announcement it may be that Jones made a late decision to stick to Lawes so that England will have more dynamism around the field than the All Blacks.

England coach Jones said: “Preparation has been good this week after a solid win against Australia. When you get to this stage of the World Cup it is all about focusing on being in the moment and getting yourself physically right. 

“The squad has approached the game well with real maturity. It has helped having players here who have been on the Lions tour and played against New Zealand. They have been involved in some of the biggest games in world rugby so this semi-final won’t phase them.

“New Zealand is a great team, they have an impressive winning record since the last Rugby World Cup. Like any good team, you have got to take away time and space from them you have to find areas you can pressure them. We believe we have identified a number of areas where we can do that.” 

How to watch on TV in the UK 

The first semi-final of the weekend will be shown live on ITV. Coverage of Saturday’s clash starts at 7.30am (UK time) and the match begins at 9am. ITV will also show the Wales vs. South Africa semi-final on Sunday. 

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Confirmed teams

New Zealand starting XV
  • 15 Beauden Barrett, 14 Sevu Reece, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 Anton Lienert-Brown, 11 George Bridge, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Aaron Smith; 1 Joe Moody, 2 Codie Taylor, 3 Nepo Laulala, 4 Brodie Retallick, 5 Samuel Whitelock, 6 Scott Barrett, 7 Ardie Savea, 8 Kieran Read (captain) 
  • Replacements: 16 Dane Coles, 17 Ofa Tuungafasi, 18 Angus Ta’avao, 19 Patrick Tuipulotu, 20 Sam Cane, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Sonny Bill Williams, 23 Jordie Barrett
England starting XV 
  • 15 Elliot Daly, 14 Anthony Watson, 13 Manu Tuilagi, 12 Owen Farrell (captain), 11 Jonny May, 10 George Ford, 9 Ben Youngs; 1 Mako Vunipola, 2 Jamie George, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 4 Maro Itoje, 5 Courtney Lawes, 6 Tom Curry, 7 Sam Underhill, 8 Billy Vunipola 
  • Replacements: 16 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 17 Joe Marler, 18 Dan Cole, 19 George Kruis, 20 Mark Wilson, 21 Willi Heinz, 22 Henry Slade, 23 Jonathan Joseph

Pundit predictions

The Daily Telegraph: New Zealand by nine points

“New Zealand’s ominous performance against Ireland will have shown England the enormous challenge that lies ahead. England should be competitive but New Zealand have too much firepower.”

Liam Hyslop, Stuff.co.nz: New Zealand by seven points 

“It should be a tight one, but New Zealand have the wood over England and have been building nicely through this tournament. ABs by 7.”

Gareth Jones, SportingLife: New Zealand to win

“Can you go from beating teams of 5/6 out of 10 quality to overcoming a 10 out of 10 side? England have yet to be truly tested, when New Zealand stamp on their throat will England fight back or crumble? As yet England have not delivered against the very best when it matters most. They are capable of changing that fact on Saturday, but for me that is why they will fall short.” 

Ash Wheldon, The Stats Zone: New Zealand to win

“England sent out a message with their superb display against Australia before New Zealand arguably bettered their performance which lays a brilliant platform for this semi-final. When the latest world rankings are released following the quarter-finals, these are deemed to be the best two teams in the world, with New Zealand leading the way. England are good enough upset the odds and beat the All Blacks but have little margin for error which may be too much pressure for them to handle. In what should be a pulsating contest, every point will count and it is the reigning champions that can progress to the final.”

ESPN: New Zealand by six points

“England’s composed dismantling of Australia, who beat the All Blacks in the final tournament warm-up match - it can be done - will stand Eddie Jones’ side in good stead - as will the encouragement they can take from a narrow and controversial defeat by the All Blacks in their previous meeting in November at Twickenham. But New Zealand are tournament favourites for a reason, and they will likely prevail in this one. Tip: New Zealand by six.”

Maryam Naz, Novibet: England to win

“What is clear is that the likes of [Jonny] May, George Ford, Manu Tuilagi and Tom Curry are more than capable of causing the Kiwis defensive havoc. Do this often enough, and they could be on their way to making it to the World Cup finals, with the added reward of having sunk the reigning champions in the process.”

Steve Luckings, The National: New Zealand to win

“[Kieran] Read’s go-forward-never-backwards mentality and [Aaron] Smith’s sniping will cut England down to size. Having dismissed their chances of a three-peat at the start of the tournament, I’m now willing to go out and buy a hat and eat it. Prediction: No stopping rampant All Blacks.”

Spiro Zavos, The Roar: New Zealand to win

“Without putting any money on the matter, my fearless prediction is that the All Blacks and the Springboks will win their respective semi-finals, and go forward to a fearsome contest in the final.”

George Flood, London Evening Standard: England 17 New Zealand 30 

“If New Zealand prove to be as ruthless as they were in the first half against Ireland, then even England’s best efforts will not be nearly enough to contain the threat of the world’s No1-ranked outfit. Jones’ men need to exploit their slight advantage at the breakdown with the tireless Tom Curry and Sam Underhill, produce a dogged defensive effort, maintain discipline and keep the ball out of the hands of twin playmakers Richie Mo’unga and Beauden Barrett as much as possible. This iteration of England are surely too good to be thrashed, but the All Blacks tend to operate on a completely different level at the World Cup and it is hard to see a way past them, unless they have a rare off-day.”

Andrew McDermott, bwin: All Blacks to edge first semi

“The All Blacks are looking to win the tournament for a third successive time and the way they blew Ireland away in the quarter-finals showed they are clearly the team to beat once again. We expect England to be more competitive but the All Blacks to win by 1-12 points is our opening England vs New Zealand prediction.”

Graham Woods, Racing Post: narrow New Zealand win

“It should be a humdinger of a battle but it may well be predominantly fought out at close quarters. Backing another narrow New Zealand win looks the best betting approach while odds-against quotes about a forward opening the scoring are also appealing.”

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