Tokyo: Maro Itoje said England might have beaten the best team in the world for more than a decade to get to the World Cup final on Saturday but they are still building as they look to finish the job next weekend.
The 24-year-old lock forward was named Man of the Match after playing a leading role in England’s magnificent defensive and setpiece effort to build the platform for the 19-7 victory over defending champions New Zealand.
“Fair play to the All Blacks, they were the best team in the world for a reason, we really had to play for 80 minutes. It was a good day at the office for us,” Itoje said.
“I think we’re just building, game by game, week by week, we’re just building. We haven’t done the job yet but we’re one step closer.”
England coach Eddie Jones paid credit to the All Blacks, who had won the last two World Cups, before concurring with Itoje on the need to improve again before next week’s final against Wales or South Africa back at Yokohama International Stadium.
“We’re playing against a great team today, Steve Hansen is a great coach, Kieran Read is a great captain,” the Australian said.
“I’m really excited for the boys. We’ve got another week in the comp, pleased about that so we can see how we can get better.
“We played our game and our discipline was outstanding. Our forwards are well-drilled and tactically aware, but we can get better by taking more opportunities.”
All Blacks coach Hansen, who will stand down at the end of the tournament, said his team had been well beaten but he was still proud of their effort. “Firstly I’d just like to congratulate England, they played a brilliant game of footy and deserved to win,” he said.
“You can’t give them half a step because they will take it.
At the end of the day, you have to say well done to them.
“I’m really proud of our team, they’ve done a tremendous job for their country and tonight they weren’t good enough. We have to take that on the chin and so do the people back home.
“You saw the boys at the end, they were still trying their guts out and that’s all you can ask. Really proud of them.”
England dominated from first to last, looking sharper, faster, stronger and more inventive in attack and fearsomely aggressive in defence and in the breakdown, where again the dynamic young duo of Sam Underhill and Tom Curry were immense.
New Zealand, who had not lost a World Cup match since the 2007 quarter-finals, barely threatened all night.
“New Zealand are the gods of rugby so we had to take it to them and put them on the back foot as much as we could,” said Jones, who was in charge of Australia when they were beaten by England in the 2003 final.
“We have been subconsciously preparing for this game for two and-a-half years and when you ingrain habits in players it is easy to sustain.”
After showing their intent not to buy into the ‘All Black aura’ by defying the officials and lining up against the Haka in a ‘V’ formation, England backed it up once the whistle had sounded, scoring a brilliant try through Tuilagi after a sustained, high-paced assault that swept the width of the pitch and had forwards and backs alike handling with mesmerizing skill.
That set the template for the half, with Owen Farrell and Ford full of speed and invention, fully vindicating Jones’s decision to restore them to the dual playmaker role.
The All Blacks never fired a shot and would have been relieved to have reached halftime only 10-0 down after Ford popped over a late penalty and an Underhill try was ruled out by the TMO.
The only previous time New Zealand had failed to score in the first half of a World Cup match was when they were beaten by Australia in the 1991 semis and, though a year ago they came back from 15-0 down at Twickenham to triumph 16-15, this time there was to be no recovery.