England v New Zealand: If stars hit their peak, England will win - Matt Dawson
|Rugby World Cup semi-final: England v New Zealand|
|Venue: International Stadium, Yokohama Date: Saturday, 26 October Kick-off: 09:00 BST|
|Coverage: Full commentary on BBC Radio 5 Live, plus text updates on the BBC Sport website and app.|
England will dethrone defending champions New Zealand in their Rugby World Cup semi-final if their key players deliver, says Matt Dawson.
New Zealand have won 15 of their past 16 meetings with England and all three of their previous World Cup encounters.
But former England scrum-half Dawson believes Eddie Jones' side have the ability to upset the odds.
"England have some world-class players. If that group play to their best, England will win," he told BBC 5 Live.
"It starts with individual performance. The front row, Maro Itoje and Owen Farrell are world class. Billy Vunipola, Ben Youngs, Manu Tuilagi and Elliot Daly must step up to that level. Tom Curry and Sam Underhill have got to obliterate the opposition.
"And then England have got to assume that they make no mistakes at the weekend - no offsides, no penalties, nothing. They have got to play the perfect game."
New Zealand have been in ominous form so far in the tournament, beating southern hemisphere rivals South Africa in the pool stages, before a comprehensive 46-14 victory over Ireland in the last eight racked up their 18th successive Rugby World Cup win - a run dating back to start of the 2011 edition.
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In Japan, New Zealand have averaged more points (51), tries (7.3), metres made (642), clean breaks (22), defenders beaten (39) and offloads (17) per match than any other team,
But Dawson believes Jones' decision to pick two playmakers in his backline, with George Ford at fly-half and Farrell at inside centre, aims to unpick the All Blacks defence.
After defeat in the first Test against New Zealand in 2017, the British and Irish Lions similarly paired Ireland fly-half Johnny Sexton with Farrell in midfield and managed to draw the three-match series.
"Jones wants to play fast and furious with lots of phases," added Dawson. "He sees how New Zealand reorganise as a weakness.
"I was surprised that George Ford was recalled. I have the tiniest bit of concern about him playing under the most enormous pressure. He sometimes hasn't been able to replicate his club and international form. We'll find out. Eddie doesn't see it like that."
Jones' New Zealand counterpart Steve Hansen also made a surprise selection, opting to give Scott Barrett, usually a second row, his first international start as a flanker, dropping Sam Cane to the bench.
Barrett's inclusion gives New Zealand a wealth of line-out options, with second rows Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock and number eight Kieran Read also in the line-up.
England slipped to a 16-15 defeat against New Zealand at Twickenham in November as that area of their game stuttered, losing five of their 15 line-outs.
But Dawson believes that it could also be an attempt to beef up his pack more generally.
"You wonder why Hansen would change a winning team. But he and Jones are paid the money to coach a side and make those big calls. Scott Barrett's inclusion is specifically for how New Zealand want to play. It gives them a bit more bulk.
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"Perhaps Hansen feels England have the edge in the set-piece and wanted a bit more bulk.
"It's a huge weekend for all sports fans. It's where it all gets ramped up. The pressure-cooker environment of international rugby. For England, it doesn't get any bigger than playing New Zealand for a place in the World Cup final - it's the stuff of dreams."
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