25 Oct 2019

Rugby: England a force to be reckoned with - Sean Fitzpatrick

From Checkpoint, 5:45 pm on 25 October 2019

Former All Black great Sean Fitzpatrick has warned the All Blacks will need to be patient as they try to break down a fit and highly trained English side in tomorrow's semi-final Rugby world Cup match.

Speaking to RNZ, Fitzpatrick pointed to the conditioning of the English team.

"They are very fit. Traditionally they have not been so fit. The pace of the game will be crucial," he said.

"England are going to have a crack at us and we will have a crack at them. May the best team win."

Fitzpatrick was captain the day New Zealand last played England in the Rugby World Cup, when Jonah Lomu cut loose to score four tries in the 1995 semi-final in South Africa. It is still considered today to be one of the greatest individual performances in a World Cup.

He believes England will be a force to be reckoned with tomorrow night.

Both teams are fitter and stronger, and he says the the influence of former All Blacks coach turned England defence coach, John Mitchell, should not be underestimated.

"We need to be patient and start well. The All Blacks need to be patient and work hard. Eventually the holes will come; the pace will be crucial.

"Last weekend against Ireland, we were lucky, the defence began to break down quickly. But this time it may not happen for a long part of the game; it could come in the 79th minute."

He said the All Blacks need to be disciplined and try to minimise the number of penalties in a match. England have one of the most accurate goalkickers in the world in Owen Farrell.

This week England coach Eddie Jones suggested that the pressure was all on the two-time world champion All Blacks, rather than England.

But Fitzpatrick rejects that.

"People say it's hard to back up from a quarter-final. It's not hard, you're playing a semi-final for the right to play in a final. We have plenty of experienced players who know what that pressure is like. We also have some young players who will be excited to be out there.

"I'm relaxed in terms of that phase of the game - the pressure, though I am still nervous."

He is picking the All Blacks as the likely winners of the semi-final and reckons the Springboks will be too big, too tough for the Warren Gatland-coached Wales, setting up a New Zealand-South Africa final.

And if that happens it will be the first time since he captained the All Blacks in the titanic 1995 final when an inspired Springbok team beat the All Blacks in extra time 15-12, in front of newly elected President Nelson Mandela.