England showed they will take some beating at the Rugby World Cup as they thumped their old enemy Australia 40-16 to become the first team to reach the semi-finals on Saturday.
Wing Jonny May scored the first two of England’s four tries in three first-half minutes as they set up a last-four clash against defending champions New Zealand or Ireland, who play later.
Kyle Sinckler and Anthony Watson crossed in the second half and 20 points flowed from Owen Farrell’s perfect kicking as Eddie Jones’s men throttled the Wallabies’ attempts to claw their way back into it.
“We did what’s needed. We had the lead and obviously Australia were throwing everything at us,” said Farrell. “We wanted to play the game at our pace not theirs, and we did that in the second half.”
With his contract up after the World Cup, the defeat appears to have ended Michael Cheika’s five-year stint as Wallabies coach whose highlight was reaching the World Cup final in 2015.
“The better team won, that’s the way it is. You’ve got to suck that up sometimes,” said a disconsolate Cheika, a former team-mate of Jones at Sydney’s Randwick club.
“I was supposed to get this done for the people here and the Australians. It’s so disappointing.”
Australia looked dangerous early on but England seized the advantage with May’s quickfire try double.
England stretched the Australian defence as they attacked right and then left, before man of the match Tom Curry drew the final defender to give the left wing an easy score in the corner.
Henry Slade then intercepted the ball on halfway and raced towards the try-line before chipping into space with a kick that was deftly gathered by the England wing.
‘Little bit surreal’
Three Christian Lealiifano penalties kept Australia in touch at 17-9 at half-time, and they came storming back after the restart when Marika Koroibete skinned Elliot Daly to cross for the Wallabies.
But England hit back almost immediately when Farrell picked out Sinckler with a bullet pass and the prop burst through a gap for his first international try.
Watson’s late intercept try completed the job for England, who equalled their record margin of victory against Australia – and beat them for a third time in the World Cup quarter-finals.
In Saturday’s second match the All Blacks, going for their third straight title, will start as firm favourites against an Ireland team who are yet to hit their stride in Japan.
However, both teams are mindful of the fact that Ireland have won two of their last three games against the world’s top-ranked side, after 2016’s 40-29 win in Chicago and a 16-9 victory in Dublin last year.
Conor Murray and World Player of the Year Johnny Sexton, one of the world’s most settled and formidable half-back pairings, lead Irish hopes against a youthful New Zealand back line.
Beauden Barrett remains at fullback behind fly-half Richie Mo’unga in Hansen’s double playmaker ploy, while Jack Goodhue comes into the centres and Sevu Reece and George Bridge are on the wings.
“It’s a little bit surreal, it’s a little bit ‘I can’t believe it’s finally here’. This time four years ago I was a spectator like you guys and it’s not a great place to be,” said Sexton, who missed Ireland’s 2015 quarter-final – a 43-20 defeat to Argentina – with a groin strain.
“So I’m really looking forward to going out there on the biggest stage and trying to show what we can do against the best team in the world, a team that hasn’t lost for two World Cups.”
On Sunday, Wales face France in Oita and hosts Japan, the tournament’s surprise package, play the first World Cup quarter-final in their history against South Africa in Tokyo.