'In Eddie We Trust' - England's plan to beat the best

Beating the All Blacks at rugby is one of the toughest feats in all of sport, writes Charlie Talbot-Smith.

Beating them at a World Cup? Even harder.

Beating them at a World Cup since Steve Hansen has been in charge? Thus far impossible.

And yet, England will take on this all-conquering crack crew on Saturday in Yokohama without fear in their head and with hope in their heart.

So why do they believe they can be the first to achieve what no team has done before?

Just ask Billy Vunipola: “I don’t know how to explain,” said the No.8, who will win his 50th cap for his country this weekend.

“I haven’t beaten them but it almost helps you by firing you to try and change the course of history and it’s a semi-final.

“I don’t think I have known a coach who has beaten New Zealand more times than Eddie. He always knows how to do it.

“It might not happen consistently but he has the formula. Trust in Eddie and hopefully we can produce the performance.”

Trust in Eddie. That seems to be the motto.

For Jones has re-modelled this team in his own hard-nosed image, and has been preparing for this game for years.

The good news for England is that Jones does indeed know how to beat the All Blacks.

Five times he beat them when in charge of the Wallabies, including in a World Cup semi-final back in 2003, but that was in a different era against a markedly inferior All Black side.

This Hansen side are a different beast, who know how to handle the big occasion.

But Jones also knows how to get get it right on the night – just ask Japan, South Africa or Australia.

This is England’s first time back in the semi-finals since 2007, and it is in no small part down to Jones.

“From a coaching point of view, it helps having experience,” admitted the head coach on Thursday.

“You know the stress the players are under. There is pressure, obviously, for everyone involved.

“Your job as a coach is to minimize the stress for your players and allow them to be free, allow them to have a clear head, allow them to play with energy and use their natural ability during the games.

“So, one of the things I’ve learned is that you don’t do too much this week. Train a little bit less, do a little bit less tactically.”

The understanding there is that all the tactical work to face the All Blacks has been done, Jones has not been shy in mentioning he has been preparing for this game for two and a half years.

He and his coaching staff had the confidence to anticipate a semi-final battle with the best when the draw was made in Kyoto all the way back in 2017.

“There’s a certain sort of game you have to have to play against New Zealand, and certainly we have tried to incorporate that into our tactical armoury,” added Jones.

“We were confident enough to think we’d make the semi-finals. So we feel like we are well-prepared for the game.

“Which is why, for two-and-a-half years, we have been building up a game to play New Zealand, so we don’t have to bring a lot of new stuff into our game this week."

As a head coach, Hansen does not know what a Word Cup disaster looks like for New Zealand, after all he has never so much as lost a match at this tournament since taking charge.

The semi-final therefore, is the toughest nut to track.

“Sometimes people will come off the euphoria of winning the quarter-final and start looking ahead to the final,” he admitted at his team's unveiling.

“I think that is a mistake we have made in the past. We may have even done it in '07 looking beyond the quarter-final. If you start looking beyond where we're at then your mind isn't where your feet are and that makes you vulnerable."

These two wily old dogs have been trying to catch the other out all week. It has been tit for tat there as well.

Jones knows how to play this game just as well as Hansen. Spies in the camp? A masterful deflection. Pressure on the defending champions? A straight bat there from Hansen.

And the one-upmanship even extended to their team selections, George Ford returning to No.10 for England while Scott Barrett gets his first career start on the blindside for the All Blacks.

Barrett has apparently been calling lineout moves in his sleep – according to his roommate and brother Beauden – so you don’t need to look too far for Hansen’s inspiration there.

Meanwhile Ford’s added kicking game and tactical nous, Jones will hope, can put England in the right areas of the field to apply pressure to the razzle dazzle of the All Blacks.

Anyone who saw the way New Zealand torched Ireland last weekend knows they start as the favourites.

But Hansen has repeatedly tried to shift some of the pressure back onto England, going out of his way to remind them of their disastrous World Cup on home soil four years ago.

The truth is that the 2015 fiasco forged this new England side. It was because of the depths they plumbed there that Jones was able come in and take near total control.

Listen to No.8 Vunipola talk about Jones and it is clear that this England squad are all paid up acolytes of the cult of the Eddie.

Vunipola is probably the chief disciple, after all, this is the man that suggested the Lions would have beaten the All Blacks 3-0 if Jones had been in charge and not Warren Gatland.

Their belief in their head coach is steadfast, but in the tough moments in games it has to be self-belief that England fall back on.

You cannot manufacture that, no matter the head coach.

Jones has worked hard to empower his players, Owen Farrell as skipper and Ford his right hand man in particular.

And these are very good players, some of them verging on world class even before Jones got his hands on them.

Ten of the starting XV have beaten the All Blacks in a Test match, a vast chunk with the Lions in Wellington two years ago, but also Ben Youngs, Farrell, Courtney Lawes and Manu Tuilagi in that famous Twickenham trouncing back in 2012.

In fact, one of the few men not to have downed these All Blacks is the recalled Ford.

But even he cannot wait for this weekend, as Jones has his side primed and ready.

“Where else would we rather be than playing in the semi-final of World Cup against New Zealand?” said the recalled fly-half.

“If we can’t get excited about that, if we can’t embrace that and have the mindset to really attack that, then we shouldn’t be in the position we’re in.

“It will be a game that will probably be decided on fine margins, but it’s one we’re excited about. Of course it’s a pressurised situation, it’s a pressurised game but we enjoy the pressure, we want to embrace it and I think we will do.”

England came so close to claiming the All Blacks scalp a year ago in the rain at Twickenham. That game will always be remembered for Sam Underhill’s try that never was.

Are Jones' England now ready to take the next step and go where no team has gone before?

One thing's for sure, if they are anything like their pugnacious head coach, they won't go down without a fight.

"We are ready to go," he finished his final press conference with this week.

"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."

It's a scenario he has been thinking of for two and a half years. Now we get to see the plan in action.

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