Reigning back-to-back Rugby World Champions New Zealand face the fiercest challenge to their global dominance on Saturday at the Yokohama International Stadium, with a semi-final clash against an imperious England.
The final two international competitions have been won by the inimitable All Blacks under the tutelage of Steve Hansen and Eddie Jones will seek the most coveted feather in his coaching cap in Yokohama by triumphing and taking England back to the Rugby World Cup final for first time since the 2003 victory.
Three-times champions New Zealand booked their place in the final four in Japan with a 46-14 victory over a rigid Ireland side, with scrum-half Aaron Smith the star of the show with a brace of tries.
England, meanwhile, reached the semi-finals with a composed and dominant 40-16 win against a strong Wallabies side – wing Jonny May racing in two tries as Jones’ men dismissed Australia in impressive fashion, a result which would Michael Cheika end his five-year reign as head coach.
Thrice the two nations have met at the Rugby World Cup, with the All Blacks running out the victors on each occasion, including the 1995 semi-final, while England have won just seven of their 41 encounters with New Zealand in all competition.
Last time the All Blacks lost a Rugby World Cup match, Tony Blair was Prime Minister and Rhianna was standing under her Umbrella at number one in the charts; England too, have not overcome New Zealand since 2012, when they were winners in a Twickenham showdown.
Turning attention to the present day, the All Blacks strength, as has been for years, is in their attacking prowess, with Smith sniping off the back off every ruck and the fire-power of Barrett brothers, Jordie and Beauden.
England, though, have the ability to match New Zealand on current form, with May already chalking up three scores, while the likes of Owen Farrell and Elliot Daly always have the ability to offer a game-changing moment.
Dominance and composure over the Wallabies appeared to be a defining moment for Jones’ England, now comes their true acid test against the best in the world and it could just be time for a change of guard in world rugby.
Ben’s Prediction: England win by nine points
Matches odds with Coral:
4/11 New Zealand 25/1 Draw 9/4 England
Coral verdict with John Hill: “England have been very popular with punters on the handicap so far as it is looks as though they are expecting a tight game so England with the start is where they want to play.”