Rugby powerhouses England and New Zealand take each other on Saturday in a blockbuster World Cup semi-final between the top two teams in the global rankings.
Aaron Smith scored a brace of tries as defending champions New Zealand thrashed Ireland 46-14 on Saturday to set up a mouth-watering World Cup semi-final against England in Yokohama. The All Blacks, seeking a third successive World Cup title, scored three first-half tries to all but end the game as a contest, going on to add four more in the second period.
Earlier, England showed they will take some beating at the tournament as they thumped their old enemy Australia 40-16 to become the first team to reach the semi-finals.
Here are three of the key battles that will decide who reaches the final on November 2:
Owen Farrell v Beauden Barrett
They may occupy different positions, with Owen Farrell down to start at inside centre and Barrett now at fullback, but they both fulfil key playmaking roles for their respective teams, having each had plenty of experience at fly-half.
Barrett still often comes into the line at first receiver, a move that makes the most of his speed and superb handling skills. He started the tournament with a lower leg problem, although there was no sign of him being hampered during a 46-14 quarter-final thrashing of Ireland, where he was named man of the match.
England captain Farrell leads from the front with extraordinary physical commitment in defence, which tends to overshadow his passing ability. He is also a more reliable goalkicker than Barrett, something which could prove decisive if Saturday’s contest is a close encounter.
Jonny May v George Bridge
The two electric wings have been in fine form at the World Cup, giving their sides a valuable cutting edge. With socks often round their ankles and similar running styles, the pair are also cut from the same rugby cloth.
The 29-year-old May failed to score in his first seven Tests before finally crossing the whitewash against New Zealand in 2014.
But he comes into this weekend’s match with a fine record of 27 tries in 50 England appearances, including a double last time out against Australia – a match where he went off shortly before the finish with a “twinge”.
New Zealand’s Bridge only made his international debut last year but the 24-year-old has since scored nine tries in eight Tests, including one during the win over Ireland.
Maro Itoje v Brodie Retallick
The rival locks have already had several memorable international contests, including during the British and Irish Lions drawn series in New Zealand two years ago.
But when England last played the All Blacks in November 2018 it was Retallick more than anyone who helped the world champions recover from a 15-0 deficit in a match they won 16-15 with a superb line-out display.
Yet he is also a considerable force in open play and such is the importance of Retallick, the 2014 World Player of the Year, that All Blacks coach Steve Hansen was prepared to do without him in New Zealand’s early games at this World Cup, knowing he would be unavailable as he recovered from a dislocated shoulder.
Itoje is still only 24 and before he made his England debut in 2016, coach Eddie Jones said he wanted to transform him from a “Vauxhall Viva into a BMW”.
The Saracens second row is certainly now one of England’s key players, his athleticism at the set-piece matched by dynamism in open play and an ability to win turnover ball. Going up against Retallick in a World Cup semi-final will be an acid test of his progress.