World Cup semi-final, England v New Zealand – Red Rose will not waste this opportunity

Key figure: England's Owen Farrell.
Key figure: England's Owen Farrell.
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IT says plenty about the magnitude of Saturday’s mouth-watering fixture in Yokohoma that it seems every aspect of the World Cup semi-final between New Zealand and England has already been poured over, studied, analysed and re-analysed.

Never mind the players being drained, exhausted and tested to extremes in the 80 minutes ahead, many of those only involved as spectators could already be forgiven for feeling slightly fatigued.

England rugby player Courtney Lawes, right, talks beside assistant coach Neal Hatley. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

England rugby player Courtney Lawes, right, talks beside assistant coach Neal Hatley. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

Not just because the early kick-off might interrupt any hopes of a Saturday morning lie-in.

Four years of work essentially boils down to just one 80-minute period. It is always the case with World Cup knock-out rugby but the realisation and pressure intensifies further when the revered All Blacks are the opponents.

Many people would love this to be the final. You do not always get what you want in this bruising competition, however, just as the likes of Ireland and company have already discovered.

Undoubtedly, Ireland will rue saving their worst performance of the last four years for the biggest of nights when they crumbled against New Zealand in the quarter-finals.

Positive thinking is fine – but you can’t win games by positive thinking. Negative thinking, on the other hand, can certainly lose you games.

Professor Peter Clough

Yes, the All Blacks were classy, relentless and so poised but their opponents failed to test them like they know they can.

You sense England will not waste their own opportunity at greatness; the assuredness and accuracy of their destruction of Australia last week suggests as much.

Still, as captain Owen Farrell told his players in their huddle directly after that contest, they have to get better again to overcome this behemoth of an opponent.

Have they that ability in them? Yes. Will the improvement be enough to douse down the All Blacks once and for all? That is more difficult to answer.

Jones, as expected, has tried to take the pressure off his side – and himself – by saying there is no pressure on his side, it is all on the champions as they strive to lift the Webb Ellis Cup for a third successive time.

He is challenging the mental toughness of the All Blacks which might seem like asking whether Japanese people like sushi.

Peter Clough, a professor of psychology at University of Huddersfield, has recently written an article about gaining mental toughness.

With an eye on today’s game, and how the elite athletes will approach such a gargantuan affair, he says: “Positive thinking is fine – but you can’t win games by positive thinking.

“Negative thinking, on the other hand, can certainly lose you games.

“You need to know what you can do on your best day and do that. You need to separate out a wish-list from a to-do list and make sure your to-do list fully reflects all your abilities.

“Mind games only work if you let them. You need to be self referent; let the opposition do what they do and just acknowledge it and move on.

“So its not psyching up – it is tapping into your own mental strengths in a mature way.”

In all fairness, the likes of Farrell and so many of his colleagues, will not worry about any of the mind-games swirling around.

He is confident enough in his squad’s own abilities to get the job done on the field come what may. Jones can lead his merry dance off it.

Granted, England have only beaten New Zealand once in the 16 meetings since their famous 2003 victory in Wellington.

But, having not faced each other for four years, they came so close when they finally did meet at Twickenham last autumn, falling just 16-15.

That was the warm-up. Today’s the real thing.

The last time they met in a World Cup semi-final was in Cape Town in 1995 when a certain Jonah Lomu left them bruised, ragged and so dishevelled in a 45-29 defeat.

There are few fears this All Blacks team has anyone capable of causing such destruction.

England will not fear them. Indeed, they have all the weapons in their arsenal to go on and usurp their own legends – the 2003 World Cup victors of Wilkinson, Johnson, Robinson et al.

Courtney Lawes also vows that New Zealand will be able to fully identify England’s players by the end of the semi-final.

All Blacks lock Brodie Retallick was on Monday forced to recall the moment he said ‘Michael Laws’ when he was asked which of Stuart Lancaster’s 2014 tourists were known to him.

Michael Laws is a Kiwi politician and former Mayor of Whanganui and Retallick’s failure to correctly name a single England player was perceived as a slight at the time.

Courtney – the Lawes Retallick was referring to – insists there will be no confusion over identities once battle commences.

“If they don’t know, then they will tomorrow (Saturday), it’s just one of those things mate! We will just get on with it,” said Lawes.

While he admires the All Blacks, Lawes insists that England also bristle with power.

“We’re excited. None of us have played in a semi-final before, it’s a challenge but we’re very excited to get out there.

“They have gone with a pretty big pack. That’s fine with us. We are used to that. In terms of the line-out, Scott Barrett is a good jumper. We have addressed that and have the callers and jumpers to deal with it.

“They have a great pack and have a lot of great players across the board - but so do we. It’s a massive occasion and we have to win.”