TOKYO – New Zealand and England will both employ double playmakers in a Rugby World Cup semi-final that is shaping as a battle of wits between coaches Steve Hansen and Eddie Jones.The All Blacks stick with their recent innovation of having goal-kicking Richie Mo’unga at fly-half, with two-time World Player of the Year Beauden Barrett in a free-roaming full-back role.England coach Jones has recalled George Ford at 10, after benching him for the quarter-final against physical Australia, with skipper Owen Farrell shifting to inside centre.The decision by Hansen and Jones to accommodate two out-and-out playmakers apiece opens up all kinds of attacking options for both sides.Importantly, it means teams don’t lose their structure when a fly-half is out of position because he has been tackled or sucked into a breakdown.It is no surprise that New Zealand and England have been so successful, having transformed the traditional blueprint of half-back selection.“Half-backs are two plus one. There is nine, 10 and then there is another,” ex-England fly-half Paul Grayson argues in his BBC column.“For New Zealand, it is nine Aaron Smith, 10 Richie Mo’unga and then there is Beauden Barrett at 15. For England, it is scrum-half Ben Youngs, fly-half George Ford and Owen Farrell at 12.”Jones said childhood friends Ford and Farrell “bring a tactical awareness — when you play New Zealand you have to be practically very smart, and George and Owen together are probably at the forefront in that area in the world”.“New Zealand always show a propensity to change the order of the way they play and it will be up to our team to understand that clearly at the start of the game,” he said.“One thing about playing New Zealand is that you have to be alive all the time, they are always in the game, always looking for opportunities –- our players are equipped for that and ready to go.”‘MATCH MADE IN HEAVEN’One of the buzzwords at the Rugby World Cup in Japan has been “transition”, the moments when a player turns defence into attack, and vice versa.“This is the area where the All Blacks rule,” said former Crusaders and Australia coach Robbie Deans.And there is no better example of a player who transitions seamlessly than Barrett, who was sensational in the All Blacks’ opening 23-13 pool victory over South Africa and the 46-14 quarter-final demolition of Ireland.“If we make mistakes, drop the ball, lose it, turnover, you see what a threat Beauden Barrett is and his speed,” warned England scrum-half Youngs.“Those transition bits are vital for us — how quickly we can shift from not having the ball to getting our defensive shape back.”It was a bold initial move by Hansen to shift Barrett to fullback, in part brought about by injury to shoo-in Damian McKenzie.Former England wing Chris Ashton said it had been a “masterstroke” by Hansen.“When he first did it everyone was like, ‘What’s he doing, you need Barrett at 10’ and now I watch them play and I’m like ‘Ah, that’s why’,” he told the BBC.“Beauden Barrett attacks every kick, he gets counter-attack ball every time. When the ball goes out the other side of the pitch, Barrett goes to 10 and Mo’unga goes out the back — it’s like a match made in heaven.”Deans said that should the All Blacks go on to win the World Cup, Barrett could potentially be named player of the year for a third time, but uniquely be the first player to do so from two different positions.“It would be quite an achievement but also quite an irony that the player who effectively usurped him at number 10 will have assisted him to that status,” Deans told New Zealand’s Stuff website.
Double trouble: Plethora of playmakers as All Blacks face England
Friday 25 14:33