New Zealand 7
YOKOHAMA • Eddie Jones had labelled New Zealand as the "gods of rugby", but yesterday's World Cup semi-final was all white as England made the All Blacks look anything but immortal.
So dominant in the event en route to the last four, Steve Hansen's players simply could not cope with their opponent's power or their defensive strength and tactical acumen after Manu Tuilagi's second-minute converted try had set the initial tone.
By the end of 80 minutes, they had well and truly sacked New Zealand's rugby citadel, handing them their first loss in 19 Cup matches dating back to the 2007 quarter-finals.
The manner in which Jones' side left New Zealand strewn on the canvas was as striking as the 19-7 scoreline, with the All Blacks' dreams of becoming the first team to win three straight crowns not so much dashed as smashed.
England are now within touching distance of their second Cup, but the stunning victory arguably re-calibrates rugby's pecking order and much of it had to do with their forwards playing the collective game of their lives.
Maro Itoje was everywhere and, along with Tom Curry, Sam Underhill and Courtney Lawes, the quartet delivered a world-class performance when it mattered most.
George Ford, taking over the kicking duties from a limping Owen Farrell, kicked four vital penalties and, when the inevitable fightback finally materialised through Ardie Savea's converted try, some of England's tackling was off the scale.
England's possession, compared to 44 per cent for New Zealand
New Zealand's possession in England's 22.
Turnovers committed by New Zealand, while England had 13.
Penalties conceded by the All Blacks against six by England.
Line-outs won by England's Man of the Match, Maro Itoje.
Almost 69,000 fans in Yokohama witnessed that most rare of sporting apparitions - an outfought, outplayed and flustered New Zealand team, and Jones later revealed the upset had been a four-year project in the making.
Lauding his players for "taking it to them and putting them on the back foot as much as we could", the England coach said: "We've got the right focus.
"We have been subconsciously preparing for this game... We set out four years ago, right from our first meeting at Pennyhill Park (England's training base) to be the best team in the world.
"We're not the best team in the world (yet).
"We've got an opportunity to play in a game (Saturday's final) when we can prove we are and that's the only thing we're concerned with."
With more possession (56 to 44 per cent) and fewer turnovers conceded (13 to 19), the stats tell their own tale, but this was about much more than figures; this was the surgical demolition of a sporting icon.
The All Blacks had never lost to England at the Cup, with Jones' men enjoying a sole win, in 2012, in their past 16 Test clashes.
Yet, for all the pyrotechnics with which organisers heralded this semi-final - flame cannons had shot fire into the skies before the kick-off - little could prepare spectators for what would unfold.
All day, this had felt special.
There is something about this England squad and when they metaphorically embraced the famous Haka with a V-shape formation of their own before the opening whistle, rejecting the intimidation many nations feel at the sight of the traditional Maori ceremonial challenge, all bets were off.
"We knew we had to be in a radius," captain Farrell told reporters.
"We wanted to not stand there and have them come at us. We wanted to have a respectful distance, but we didn't want to be just a flat line and have them come at us."
However, there was nothing even the inventive Kiwis could do to prevent themselves being smothered by England's white blanket.
For the All Blacks, it will be time for reflection and rebuilding, while England reach their fourth Cup final and first since 2007.
They will meet either Wales or South Africa in next Saturday's showpiece final, seeking their second title since 2003 when they became the first, and to date only, northern hemisphere side to land rugby's biggest prize.
REUTERS, THE GUARDIAN
WALES V SOUTH AFRICA
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