All Blacks spring semi-final surprise ahead of England clash

George Ford alongside Owen Farrell in England training

George Ford alongside Owen Farrell in England training Credit Getty Images

Sean Fitzpatrick, who captained the All Blacks 62 times, has spent some of this week with the squad in Tokyo. He even tossed in a spying allegation about somebody secretly filming England's practice, although he didn't specifically say it was from New Zealand. "When you play them you have to go at them".

Ford is also a useful man to have on your side if you potentially require 25 points or more to win a World Cup semi-final. England's dynamic pack will test the All Blacks but if they reproduce their brilliance against Ireland it is hard to see them losing.

That's easier said than done.

Fitzpatrick, who won the World Cup in 1987, lost in the semifinal to Australia in 1991 and then lost the final against South Africa in 1995, wonders if England can do that.

"The All Blacks have done that and there are players in this team who have experienced that. Scooter's the one who's nice and calm", he said. Can England do it?

There's a reason Steve Hansen is comfortable calling Eddie Jones' bluff.

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"When you get to this stage of the World Cup it is all about focusing on being in the moment and getting yourself physically right".

It comes after Jones said the pressure on the All Blacks, as they push for a third consecutive title, would have mental skills coach Gilbert Enoka working overtime this week.

As for the mind games, Hansen was quick to dismiss the suggestion that he'd had eyes on England's training session.

"We know what we have to do and we've had a great week's preparation".

'Work-rate is going to be important. They'll have memories about a tournament four years ago that didn't go that good, so they'll be under enormous pressure themselves. To say they've got nothing to lose ... "They have got a whole four years' work resulting on one outcome". As long as Scott doesn't follow some of Dad's tactics from '98 - you probably can't get away with it now.' - Jordie Barrett says his father, former flanker Kevin, will not be able to resist passing on tips to Scott about playing at number six. "Don't read it. Don't really care".

England's sole success during this run came in 2012 at Twickenham, although they did push them extremely close in last November's match with New Zealand securing a 16-15 win.

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Despite the huge difference in size between the two countries, the All Blacks have largely had the upper hand on England during the professional era.

"Obviously it's strategic", Hansen said.

Jones said the best four teams were still alive in the competition and, "We get to play one of the greatest teams ever, that are shooting for a "three-peat", which has never been done, so that brings an element of pressure to their team". For every player awaiting Saturday's title eliminator, however, it does not now feel that way.

To accommodate Ford, captain Owen Farrell moves to inside centre and Manu Tuilagi shifts to 13 with Henry Slade dropping to the bench.

"I think he's better than that now", said the Australian. But the days we've had to acknowledge it;s there; now we're expected to win every game whether it's qf, sf or just an ordinary test match.

Whether it's a winning combination will be known when the hot air dissipates and the rugby takes over.

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The change also means Patrick Tuipulotu will be the reserve lock.

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