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England qualifies for Rugby World Cup, dethrones New Zealand

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If England have ever produced a better 80 minutes of rugby union, then no-one dancing round Yokohama or screaming the sofas down back home could care to remember it.

It was supposed to be close. It was supposed to be the All Blacks, because it is almost always the All Blacks, going back through the years at Twickenham and Auckland and all points in between.

And yet it was comfortable, in an excruciating sort of way, if you ignore the dread tension of being up and ahead from the second minute against a side who routinely make late comebacks like other teams make touch.

And if you could watch George Ford’s penalties arcing towards the posts while still breathing, and watch the percussive demolition hits of Sam Underhill, Tom Curry and Maro Itoje without grabbing your own ribs and wincing.

From the first minute to the last, England were demonstrably the superior team. There’s a decent argument they also won the time before then too; when you can stare down the haka and grin, as Owen Farrell did, or stroll towards it like a man off to the bar, as Joe Marler did. There was no fear when so many down the years have quaked.

Never before have New Zealand conceded a World Cup try as early as Manu Tuilagi’s second-minute score. Only once before have they been kept scoreless in the first half of a World Cup match.

It is 18 games – across 12 years – since they were beaten in this tournament, and this was only a second loss to England in 17 meetings. Yet, on a night of the gloriously strange, the most nonsensical stat of all was also among the most startling: the three-time world champions scored fewer points than Leicester did away goals against Southampton the night before.

To tip the All Blacks from their throne, even the most ebullient among England’s support thought half their team would have to produce the finest performance of their lives.


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