Hey Eddie Jones, this is how England beat New Zealand
AS someone who has had to recently analyse and face world champions New Zealand, looking for rare points of weakness, Phil Davies is well-placed when he suggests England can triumph in Saturday’s World Cup semi-final.
It was less than three weeks ago that the former Leeds Tykes coach took his Namibia team into action against the revered All Blacks.
Indeed, for around three wonderful minutes, the African nation – ranked 23rd in the world and made up predominantly of part-time players – actually led.
Granted, there was never any danger of the biggest upset in the sport’s history – they eventually lost 71-9 – but Davies’ side did certainly rattle their opponents and won the hearts of many.
England, with all their might, will have heeded some lessons.
“Obviously, preparing a Namibia team to face New Zealand is totally different to preparing an England team,” admitted Davies, who led Tykes during the most successful period in their history.
“But the one thing we looked at was focusing on what we needed to do, doing it to the best of our ability – and under the pressure we knew we’d come under.
“We also had certain performance goals: we knew we couldn’t beat the All Blacks but we wanted to be one score or less in the first 20 minutes of the game.
“As it happened, after 36 minutes we were only 10-9 down.
“So we achieved that. We also looked at how we could retain the ball for long periods and we did. There were two or three times we kept for 12, 13 phases which was really good for us.
“The other was the transition speed of how quickly we could get organised from attack to defence and vice versa. We did well.
“We knew there was an avalanche of pressure coming at us in the second half but it was amazing really what we did.
“We kept battling on and it was taking them six, seven, eight phases to score so we were there but they are a brilliant team.
“The ultimate thing for us, though, was gaining the respect off them which I think we did.
“We achieved small victories along the way and those examples I’ve given will be key this weekend for England, too.”
Davies, who made 46 Test appearances for Wales between 1985 and 1995, is confident England have the ability and wherewithal to end the All Blacks’ eight-year reign as world champions.
Their impressive 40-16 destruction of Australia in the quarter-finals merely cemented that.
However, there are a few caveats to the assertion, principally surrounding Eddie Jones’s side’s clinical touch.
“In a two-horse race anything can happen,” said Davies, speaking from experience given his Leeds side’s greatest achievement was memorably beating heavy favourites Bath in the 2005 Powergen Cup final.
“England have certainly showed they can be powerful when they need to be, move the ball when opportunities arise and kick pretty smartly.
“It’s a 23-man game now – as Eddie says – and that showed on Saturday. The bench was brilliant and All Blacks do that well, too.
“For me, if England win their set-piece ball but then – more than that – create and take their opportunities, that’s crucial.
“New Zealand will take theirs; they can mix the game up and the clinical nature of their game is fantastic.
“But England will create opportunities – I’m sure of that – and more so than Ireland did as England have a lot of variations to their game.
“Whether it’s direct play through driving line-outs, kicking in behind and then pressuring the All Blacks set-piece to get turnover or moving it quickly on the counter attack with Elliot Daly, Anthony Watson and Jonny May. They have to finish their chances and I think that will be the difference. I do think they will do it.”
Davies, who has just completed his fifth year as Namibia coach, hopes Wales will then get over South Africa to set up an historic final.
“Obviously I have a soft spot for New Zealand given the way they treated the Namibian boys in the last World Cup in England but more so post-match in Japan,” he said.
“How they did that was what the spirit of rugby is all about.
“But as a northern hemisphere guy and fan of its rugby, it’d be amazing to see two northern hemisphere teams in a World Cup final for the first time ever.
“We played South Africa, too, in this World Cup and their driving maul is phenomenal.
“But Wales’s kicking game doesn’t lend to that; it lends to counter-attacks. It’ll be a hell of a game come what may. I can see potential record ball-in-play stats from both semis. It’s intriguing.”