October 26th 2019
That had been the plan. To see England play. To hopefully see them in a quarter final match. We had gambled and got tickets for both quarter finals so they didn’t even have to top the group. We would get to see England play in a competitive match. We did see them and it was a fantastic day. We watched their victorious win over Australia. Now we could enjoy the semi final and finals - whoever may be in them at our local rugby pub.
Then, on the bus back to our hotel after the seven hells of Beppu exploration, we reminisced about how great it had been. How it would be so nice to support England in the semi-final. They were going to lose I reasoned, they were up against the two-time World Cup holders New Zealand, but wouldn’t it be great to be there to support them… Were we really ready for our live World Cup journey to be over? Ok, let’s see how the tickets are going on the resale sites. Not horrendous. The price would only increase closer to the day. We didn’t have to worry about accommodation, and we could get the shinkansen up on the day as it didn’t start until 5pm. So we did it. In a tourist information shop with dodgy internet connection in Beppu, we splashed out on the tickets which would continue our World Cup Dream. We were going to Yokohama to watch England fight for a chance to make the World Cup Final.
It was a lovely sunny Saturday morning. We donned our festive supporters gear, borrowed the England flag from Mel and made our way to Yokohama. We wanted to get there early to soak up the atmosphere in the fanzone!
We arrived by 1.30pm and already the place was filling up. There were stalls, photo stops, food and drink available. We took photos with a few people who appreciated Mel’s flag. We grabbed some food to eat whilst the big screen replayed other World Cup matches.
We knew we wanted to get to the stadium early to soak up the atmosphere and enjoy every moment we could, so we headed to the train station at about 3pm. Once there we followed the continuous flow of people and the helpful games makers towards the stadium.
Outside the stadium we chatted with a few English fans, taking photos for each other. We were particularly impressed with the couple with the Ren Ji hats, if a little jealous.
We had a good wander around the whole stadium and finally made our way to our seats. We found we were sat next to some lovely English boys; Jamie and Sam and pretty quickly convinced them to help us wave our flag.
The stage was set, the Japanese weather was again putting on another beautiful sunset.
The atmosphere was electric. There were a lot of England fans but there were a lot of All Blacks fans too. The numbers of the Kiwi supporters were swelled by the Japanese who worship the All Blacks as their second team.
The warm up complete it was time for the iconic Haka. The All Blacks formed their arrowhead shape and in a shocking turn of events the England team formed a V outflanking the All Black team. At one point it looked like Billy Vunipola and Joe Marler were actually going to advance on the All Blacks, but they were ushered back behind the halfway line by the match officials.
The crowd were audibly shocked and the normal hush that accompanied the sacred Haka was disrupted. Owen Farrell, England’s captain, looked on from the top of V with a satisfied smirk. Everyone in that stadium knew that the gauntlet had been thrown down. England were ready, they had made an incredibly bold gesture, now they had to back it up with action.
England were kicking off. Straight away they set to confuse the opposition by making it appear as if George Ford would kick but as the whistle blew he passed it back to Farrell. England began with real intent. Anthony Watson skipped along the line evading defenders, and offloaded across the pitch. The whole team were involved in passing and carrying the ball towards the All Blacks’ try line. It felt like an inevitability then when Manu Tuilangi completed the attack my diving over the try line just two minutes in. The vaguely stunned crowd erupted. England had come to play.
England’s line out was working like a well oiled machine. They suffocated the All Blacks attacks by ushering their wingers into touch and turning over the ball with frightening efficiency. The forwards showed their skills as they tackled with ferocious brutality and carried and passed with silky ball skills. Finally at 24 minutes it looked like England had cleaved their way through the All Blacks defence as Sam Underhill charged over the try line. After consultation with the TMO however, Nigel Owen decided that Tom Curry had obstructed a defender from tackling the ball carrier and therefore the try was disallowed.
Just a couple of minutes later, Owen Farrell received a dead leg that would continue to haunt him for the rest of the match. After a bad kick by Ford the All Blacks capitalised but the attack was finally naturalised as three white shirts forced Jack Goodhue into touch.
Just a couple of minutes from half time England are 7-0 ahead of New Zealand. The All Blacks are on the attack but Tuilagi’s sudden presence makes the usually confident Richie Mo’unga hesitate, giving Sam Underhill the opportunity to make the tackle and get over the ball. The resulting penalty taken by George Ford brings the English side to 10-0 over the World Cup holders at half time.
We couldn’t believe what we were seeing. At no point did I relax and think England had this in the bag. This was the All Blacks team who had torn Ireland apart just the week before, surely after half time they would come back and show their class.
Shortly after half time there was a messy bit of play that saw England lose their attacking ball to the All Blacks; however, the England forwards piled in with Maro Itoje forcing a penalty. After a swift kick England activated their set piece. From the line out they created a maul and drove towards the line. The ball was released to Ben Youngs who spotted the space and wove between defenders for the try.
Unfortunately, during the replay of the points being scored, a close up showed some shifting of the ball during the maul. After careful TMO scrutiny, it was decided that the ball had been lost forward in the maul and regathered and therefore, another try was disallowed. At 49 minutes the All Blacks gave away another penalty and George Ford with apparent little effort makes them pay with his precision kick to take the points to 13-0.
At 55 minutes Slade and Tuilagi had to sprint across the pitch to halt Sevu Reece from scoring in the corner. This tackle had to be examined for foul play but Slade was given the benefit of the doubt as he tried to wrap one arm. The result was an England line out. Jamie George confidently throws the ball high as he has been doing all game. This time something went wrong with the machine, either the jumper has not reached the heights he needed or George has overthrown. Ardie Savea needed no more encouragement, he catches the loose ball and dashes for the line. Finally the All blacks have points on the board. After the Richie Mo’unga conversion the All Blacks coming back 7-13. Within five minutes to go, the All Blacks are desperately defending their try line from the onslaught of the powerful England forwards. They give away a penalty and again George Ford takes 3 points with a kick.
I keep expecting for the All Blacks to come back at England but the men in White contain the opposition effectively. So much so the usually clinical Kiwis end up giving away another penalty that leads to points, making the score 19-7.
By the 80th minute the All Blacks were labouring across the field but their repeated attempts were dashed against the rock hard wall of white shirts.
Nigel Owens blew his whistle to end the game as Jordie Barrett attempted to keep the ball alive.
England had done it. They had looked in control of the game. Every member of the team had played exceptionally. Maro Itoje had frustrated the All Blacks at the break down and looked supremely confident in the line outs. He was influential in attack and defence and rightly deserved man of the match. Considering we thought there was a sliver of a chance of a win against the clinical All Blacks, we were delighted to have been there to experience it. But the question now was could they overcome the final hurdle and lift the World Cup?