England beat New Zealand, the winners of the previous two World Cups in 2011 and 2015, in a stunning upset in the current World Cup, winning 19-7 in a defensive, forwards-dominated game, with each side scoring only one try, all the other points coming from penalties. New Zealand had beaten England in 15 of their last 16 exchanges.
I wrote before of the pre-game haka ritual of the New Zealand team, part of the psychological battle, and there were plenty of interesting comments to that post discussing the meaning and purpose of the haka and how teams respond to it. Apparently, the English team had decided on a different way to respond.
You could see them in the minutes before kick-off, when England lined up into a V formation to face the haka, Owen Farrell at the centre and his 22 teammates in rows either side, the last men in the line standing deep into New Zealand’s half. Nigel Owens asked them to step back. Joe Marler was not having it.
The prop shot Owens a filthy grin and held his ground. It was all done to discomfort the All Blacks, to let them know England were going to contest every last little piece of the ground.
“New Zealand are the god of rugby,” [England coach Edie] Jones said . “We wanted to take it to them, to put them on the back foot as much as we could.”
I doubt that these little bits of theatrics have much effect on the outcome of the games. Once the match starts, I think players are probably so focused on the moment that they do not reflect on the pre-game activities.
Here are the highlights of the game.