Making a case for the defence in England's knockout successes

Eddie Jones's attackers draw all the plaudits but his defenders build the platform for victories on the road to a final appearance.

TOKYO, 1 Nov - England were hailed as a great attacking team after their performances in the knockout matches but the defence deserve as much credit for providing the platform for scoring chances and blunting the threat from their opponents. 

England began the semi-final against New Zealand with a seven-phase attack involving touches from 11 players and ending with Manu Tuilagi going over for a try to give Eddie Jones's team the early lead they wanted.

The All Blacks seemed surprised by the intensity of England's attacking power in those opening seconds. There was a huge gap between the post and the ruck left by New Zealand's forwards, which provided Tuilagi the space he needed to score, as the clip below shows.

 After this score, England's defence became key in not only stopping New Zealand from creating opportunities, but also as the springboard for their attacks.

In the video above, fly-half George Ford rips the ball from All Black prop Nepo Laulala to give Maro Itoje the opportunity to carry. The ball comes back to Ford and then Owen Farrell, whose kick goes deep into New Zealand territory, and All Black George Bridge's clearance leaves England more than 30m farther upfield.

The resultant lineout produced the second of seven entries by England into New Zealand's 22 in the first 25 minutes of the match. At international level, the best teams average around three points per entry into the opposition 22. England ended this period with only the seven points they scored at the start.

By the 25th minute, England should have scored closer to 20 points given the number of opportunities they had in the early stages. It was the attack that had arguably let the team down, with England being turned over, knocking on or being penalised to end those chances.

The defence neutralised New Zealand in that first 25 minutes and continued to do so throughout the match, pictured above. The All Blacks barely made any forays into the England half during that early period and their first promising break was after England turned the ball over in their rivals' 22. Jack Goodhue and George Bridge carried into the England half but the number of options began to run out just over the halfway line.

When Beauden Barrett receives the ball in the above clip, the only option he has is to pass to Goodhue. Try scorer Tuilagi realises this and rushes up to intercept. Goodhue does well to tackle Tuilagi to slow the attack but Jonny May still gets into the 22. The attack ends with Farrell knocking on from May's below-par pass. 

England's defence successfully made 147 tackles against New Zealand and won 15 turnovers. Eleven players from every area of the team were responsible for winning those turnovers. A week earlier against Australia, England made 193 tackles and won seven turnovers.

This sequence against the All Blacks in last weekend's semi-final shows how England have driven back teams from the gain-line. After around 30m lost, Beauden Barrett has little option other than to kick.

The ferocity of England's defence has been as critical to the team's success as the attack. The attack, though, will need to be more efficient than last week when they meet South Africa in Saturday's final. There will probably be fewer opportunities so they will need to be taken for England to finish Rugby World Cup 2019 as champions.

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