England and New Zealand face off in a mouth-watering Rugby World Cup semi-final as Eddie Jones' men look to somehow topple the two-time defending champions. 

The All Blacks are aiming to become the first side to win three successive World Cups, but England represent a huge obstacle in their road to history.

For England to defy the odds and reach the final for the first time since 2007, they will need to end a New Zealand winning streak stretching back to that tournament 12 years ago.

Here we take a statistical look at Saturday's mammoth last-four clash in Yokohama.

15 - New Zealand have won 15 of their last 16 matches against England - the exception in that run being a 21-38 defeat at Twickenham in 2012, a game in which Manu Tuilagi and Kieran Read both scored tries.

4 - This will be the fourth Rugby World Cup clash between England and New Zealand. The All Blacks have won each of the previous three (1991, 1995, 1999), including their only knockout encounter which came in the semi-finals of the 1995 tournament in South Africa.

3 - England have won three of their previous four World Cup semi-final matches - the 29-45 loss to New Zealand in 1995 is the exception.

18 - New Zealand have won their past 18 World Cup matches, the longest such run in the tournament's history, last losing a game in the quarter-finals of the 2007 edition against France. Sam Whitelock has played in all 18 of those games and as such holds the individual record for most consecutive wins in World Cup history.

30 - The All Blacks have averaged the most points (51), tries (7.3), metres (642), clean breaks (22), defenders beaten (39) and offloads (17) of any side at the 2019 World Cup. They are also one of four sides yet to lose a scrum on their own feed (30/30).

- Neither England nor New Zealand have conceded a first half try in this tournament so far, the only sides to manage this; both have conceded three tries in the second half.

13 - Owen Farrell (87) needs 13 points to become the second player to reach 100 World Cup points for England after Jonny Wilkinson (277). He has managed that haul in four of his past five starts for England and averages 11.4 points per game in eight previous appearances against New Zealand (including with the British and Irish Lions).

1 - Jonny May needs one try to equal Jason Robinson on 28 tries for England, the joint fifth most for the country. It will be May's 51st match; Robinson won 51 caps for England.

- Maro Itoje has won more turnovers (seven) than any other player at the 2019 World Cup. Ardie Savea (five) is New Zealand's leading exponent in this facet of the game and has indeed won the joint most jackal turnovers of any player (five).

Warren Gatland had mixed news on the injury front as he named the Wales team for their Rugby World Cup semi-final, welcoming back Jonathan Davies but forced to do without Liam Williams.

Wales face South Africa in Yokohama on Sunday looking to reach the World Cup final for the first time.

Davies is back in Gatland's XV after missing the narrow last-eight victory over France with a recurrence of an earlier knee injury.

However, Williams is out of this clash and the remainder of the tournament due to a training-ground injury.

Wales reported Williams had suffered the blow to his ankle in an accidental collision and a prognosis was still to be established.

That blow sees Leigh Halfpenny come into the side at full-back, joining Josh Adams and George North in the back three.

Wales had already lost Josh Navidi to a torn hamstring against France, meaning Ross Moriarty's inclusion is the third and final change to the side.

Gatland's men will be led by Alun Wyn Jones, who is earning his 142nd Test cap - including nine for the British and Irish Lions.

He moves to joint-second on the all-time worldwide list, tied with Italy's Sergio Parisse behind former All Black Richie McCaw (148).

Gareth Davies gets his 50th cap.


Wales team: Leigh Halfpenny, George North, Jonathan Davies, Hadleigh Parkes, Josh Adams, Dan Biggar, Gareth Davies; Wyn Jones, Ken Owens, Tomas Francis, Jake Ball, Alun Wyn Jones, Aaron Wainwright, Justin Tipuric, Ross Moriarty.

Replacements: Elliot Dee, Rhys Carre, Dillon Lewis, Adam Beard, Aaron Shingler, Tomos Williams, Rhys Patchell, Owen Watkin.

Steve Hansen wants to ensure New Zealand do not repeat past mistakes by getting caught up in the "euphoria" of a quarter-final triumph when they battle England for a place in the Rugby World Cup showpiece.

Two-time defending champions the All Blacks are the favourites to lift the Webb Ellis Cup once again but must overcome Eddie Jones' side in Yokohama on Saturday to keep their hopes of doing so alive.

New Zealand produced a commanding display to brush aside Ireland, who started the tournament in Japan as the top-ranked side in the world, 46-14 in the last eight.

But Hansen warned against looking beyond a blockbuster semi-final with England, something he feels they have been guilty of in the past.

"Sometimes I think people come off the euphoria of winning the quarter-final, and then they start looking ahead at the final," said Hansen.

"I think that could have been a mistake that we've made in the past. I think we may have even done it in 2007, looking beyond the quarter-final. And when you start looking beyond where you're actually at, then your mind's not where your feet are, and you're vulnerable.

"I think that's probably why they would say it's tough, because you've just come off the euphoria of winning the quarter-final knowing you now have an opportunity, and then you may start looking at that opportunity before you've actually earned the right to look at it."

Jones on Thursday moved away from his apparent attempts at kidology earlier this week, having claimed someone had spied on England training without accusing the All Blacks, of whom he said "the pressure will be chasing them down the street".

England have lost each of their past six Tests against New Zealand and the head coach is relishing the chance to put that right.

"It's going to be a great contest, isn't it? Two heavyweights, one dressed in black, one dressed in white. You couldn't think of a better scenario," said Jones.

"I think it's a great week, it's one of the most exciting weeks in world rugby.

"You get a press conference [with this many people] usually only when you've done something bad.

"We haven't done anything bad yet, so it's an exceptional week for us."

Kieran Read and Jonny May overcame injury concerns to feature in the starting XV for New Zealand and England respectively.

 

PLAYERS TO WATCH

England - George Ford

Having been dropped to the bench for the quarter-final success over Australia, Ford will want to prove himself after returning to the starting XV as the only change. Jones highlighted the fly-half's impressive work-rate and he will want to deliver on that after replacing captain Owen Farrell, who will start at outside centre, in the number 10 shirt.

New Zealand - Scott Barrett

Hansen too only made one alteration to his line-up, with lock Barrett replacing Sam Cane in the back row. Barrett has never started an All Blacks game at flanker so it will be interesting to see if the coach's tactical decision pays dividends.

KEY OPTA FACTS

- This will be the fourth World Cup clash between England and New Zealand. The All Blacks have won each of the previous three (1991, 1995, 1999) including their only knockout encounter, which came in the semi-finals of the 1995 tournament in South Africa.
- England had just 10 minutes and 34 seconds of possession in their quarter-final victory against Australia, their lowest amount in a game since Opta have recorded this data (2010).
- The All Blacks have averaged the most points (51), tries (7.3), metres (642), clean breaks (22), defenders beaten (39) and offloads (17) of any side at this World Cup.
- Billy Vunipola is in line to win his 50th cap for England. New Zealand are the one side he has yet to beat in an England shirt (L4), notching up victories against each of the other 11 nations he has faced.

South Africa director of rugby Rassie Erasmus has hailed Wales head coach Warren Gatland as a "legend" ahead of their Rugby World Cup semi-final showdown on Sunday.

Gatland masterminded a Grand Slam triumph in the final Six Nations campaign of his tenure this year and stands on the brink of leading Wales into a first World Cup final.

Erasmus hailed the New Zealander, who will end his long reign after the tournament in Japan, as he prepares to pit his wits against the wily British and Irish Lions coach in Yokohama this weekend.

"Warren is an absolute legend of the game. You very seldom see him in a mouth fight and mudslinging before Test matches," said Erasmus.

"I've never been there having to reply to something he says, and he doesn't bite at you to create unnecessary nonsense before a Test match, so I've got a lot of respect for him as a person.

"His results on the field speak for themselves, with the Welsh team and the British and Irish Lions."

Erasmus made one enforced change to his side following an emphatic win over Japan, Sbu Nkosi replacing Cheslin Kolbe (ankle).

Gatland will be hoping Jonathan Davies is available to return after missing the quarter-final win over France with a knee injury, but Erasmus says they have enough quality to cope without the centre.

"They've almost got a southern hemisphere backline in terms of size." Erasmus said of the Six Nations champions.

"I know [Dan] Biggar is maybe not as big as other guys, but definitely busy. Hadleigh Parkes is a big guy, Davies is a physical guy. I think he was backline player of the tour in New Zealand with the British and Irish Lions.

"You've got [George] North, who is a big boy, and Liam Williams, who was always outstanding and physical. So, if they lose him [Davies], they will definitely lose a guy who is intimidating, who's got soft skills, experience.

"But then again, they've still got Liam there, Biggar, good guys off the bench, still got [Leigh] Halfpenny there.

"They've got a great pack of forwards, but their backline is a big threat. If they do lose him, they will lose somebody like we've lost Cheslin, but hell, they've got some great other players as well."

Eddie Jones does not think anyone outside the England camp believes they can beat New Zealand in a blockbuster Rugby World Cup semi-final on Saturday.

New Zealand go into the clash in Yokohama two victories away from lifting the Webb Ellis Cup for the third time in succession, but Jones is happy to be the underdog.

The Australian said this week "the pressure will be chasing [the All Blacks] down the street", while his team could play without the burden of expectation.

Although Jones admitted to a degree of anxiety about the clash, he hopes to help his team thrive against the favourites for success in Japan.

"There's always nerves - you're only human - but there's that mixture between being nervous and excited which is the reason you coach," Jones told BBC Radio 5 Live.

"To be involved in a game like this is the most fantastic experience as a coach, and it's what you live for.

"Out of one hundred journalists in the room, as we saw, 97 think New Zealand are going to win.

"The three who put up their hands put them up timidly and hoped no one saw them put up their hands.

"Our 31 players plus 20-odd staff believe we can win, and we're the only people in Japan who believe we can win. We'll take that situation and maximise it."

Jones' men have lost their past six matches against New Zealand but 11 players in the squad for Saturday's match have experience of beating the All Blacks, either in England's 38-21 victory in December 2012 or the British and Irish Lions' second Test success in 2017.

The England boss believes that will hold the team in good stead as they look to cause an upset.

"I think traditionally when you play against New Zealand, the pace and intensity of the game gets you," said Jones.

"If you have experienced that before, you understand what you have got to prepare yourself for, and most of our squad have been involved in those games so we've got great experience.

"They know what New Zealand are going to bring to the game and they have practised this week to be equipped for it.

"We are ready for the game, we've had two-and-a-half years to prepare for this game so we are ready to go."

George Ford will return at fly-half in the only change for England, while Steve Hansen's sole alteration for the All Blacks sees Scott Barrett replace Sam Cane.

George Ford has returned to England's starting line-up for the blockbuster Rugby World Cup semi-final showdown with New Zealand on Saturday.

Coach Eddie Jones went with Owen Farrell at fly-half for the last-eight win against Australia but has brought Ford back to face the All Blacks in Yokohama. It means captain Farrell will again be shifted to outside centre at the expense of Henry Slade.

Billy Vunipola will win his 50th Test cap, while fellow back-row forward Mark Wilson is named in the 23 for just the second time in the tournament. He takes Lewis Ludlam's spot among the replacements.

"Preparation has been good this week after a solid win against Australia," said Jones. "When you get to this stage of the World Cup it is all about focusing on being in the moment and getting yourself physically right.

"The squad has approached the game well, with real maturity. It has helped having players here who have been on the [British and Irish] Lions tour and played against New Zealand. They have been involved in some of the biggest games in world rugby so this semi-final won't faze them.

"New Zealand are a great team, they have an impressive winning record since the last World Cup. Like any good team, you have got to take away time and space from them; you have to find areas you can pressure them. We believe we have identified a number of areas where we can do that."

Jones added: "It is a great achievement for Billy to reach 50 Test matches for England and something that is very special for the team. I know his family will be very proud of him and even more so to play the game alongside his brother Mako."

Like Jones, New Zealand coach Steve Hansen also made just one change to his starting XV, with Scott Barrett replacing Sam Cane.

 

England: Elliot Daly, Anthony Watson, Manu Tuilagi, Owen Farrell, Jonny May, George Ford, Ben Youngs; Mako Vunipola, Jamie George, Kyle Sinckler, Maro Itoje, Courtney Lawes, Tom Curry, Sam Underhill, Billy Vunipola.

Replacements: Luke Cowan-Dickie, Joe Marler, Dan Cole, George Kruis, Mark Wilson, Willi Heinz, Henry Slade, Jonathan Joseph.

Eddie Jones' suggestion that England were spied on ahead of the Rugby World Cup semi-finals was branded "the best clickbait in the world" by New Zealand boss Steve Hansen.

Australian Jones this week said England were aware of someone filming from an apartment near their training base in Chiba, though he did not accuse last-four opponents the All Blacks directly.

Hansen, who named made one change to his line-up for Saturday's match in Yokohama by replacing Sam Cane with Scott Barrett, was unsurprised by the media's reaction.

"Eddie and I both know that all is fair in love and war and there is nothing better in war than throwing a wee distraction out that you guys [the media] can't resist," said Hansen.

"It's the best clickbait in the world: 'Someone's spying on us.' He didn't call at us. He was very deliberate in not doing that.

"He talked about it being somebody else. It was probably the same bloke who videoed us when we were there, but everyone has jumped on it and he's been successful in getting the clickbait.

"He was very particular about what he said, that someone had filmed their training. He said it could have been a supporter. He didn't say New Zealand did it."

Hansen bears Jones no ill will over the comments and revealed the two have since been in touch.

"It's only a mind game if you buy into it. We're not buying into it," said Hansen. "It's allowed us to have a good laugh. I'm chuckling away.

"He’s been in touch with me, but not about spying. I get a text, 'How are you going, Steve?'. 'Pretty good, thanks Eddie.' He's laughing, I'm laughing. You guys are getting what you want because everyone is clicking on the bait."

Jones also claimed that while England can play with freedom in the semi-finals, "the pressure will be chasing [New Zealand] down the street" as they attempt to win the World Cup for a third time in succession.

Hansen replied: "I have talked about pressure since I have been All Blacks coach. Early in our history we probably ran away from it and ... let it chase us down the street.

"These days we acknowledge it's there. We get it every game ... doesn't matter if it's a quarter-final, semi-final or a Test match.

"It would be very naive not to acknowledge [the pressure] to be on both sides."

South Africa have been dealt a huge blow ahead of their Rugby World Cup semi-final against Wales, with Cheslin Kolbe ruled out due to injury.

Livewire wing Kolbe tweaked the ankle injury that kept him out of the pool match against Canada when he returned to the team for the last-eight victory over Japan.

Sbu Noksi has consequently moved into the starting line-up for Sunday's match at Yokohama, the sole change to the 23 selected by Rassie Erasmus.

"It's disappointing not to have Cheslin available as he has been brilliant for us since we first called him up last year," said head coach Erasmus.

"But we really rate Sbu and he will slot straight in. I am as excited to see what he can do as I would be if Chessie were playing. Sbu has been very close to selection as it is."

Nkosi, who has scored eight tries in 10 Test appearances for the Springboks, featured in pool matches against Namibia and Canada, touching down against the latter.

By making no further changes, Erasmus once more has two backs and six forwards on the bench.

 

South Africa: Willie le Roux, Sbu Nkosi, Lukhanyo Am, Damian de Allende, Makazole Mapimpi, Handre Pollard, Faf de Klerk; Tendai Mtawarira, Bongi Mbonambi, Frans Malherbe, Eben Etzebeth, Lood de Jager, Siya Kolisi, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Duane Vermeulen.

Replacements: Malcolm Marx, Steven Kitshoff, Vincent Koch, RG Snyman, Franco Mostert, Francois Louw, Herschel Jantjies, Frans Steyn.

Faf de Klerk has put the boot in on his social media critics as South Africa prepare to try and kick Wales out of the Rugby World Cup on Sunday. 

Scrum-half De Klerk was named man of the match after his starring role in the 26-3 quarter-final victory over tournament hosts Japan. 

That did not stop some Springboks supporters from calling on the playmaker to cut down on putting up the high balls ahead of a last-four showdown with the reigning Six Nations champions. 

De Klerk defended South Africa's tactics, however, pointing out they were effective in putting their opponents on the back foot. 

"We do kick a lot, but we try to read the game and the momentum. So, if you look at last weekend, we did kick a lot in the air, and Japan managed to contain our aerial battle," De Klerk said. 

"But if you look further than that, we managed to get so much territorial gain on them with our defence, with the guys being loaded on that. 

"It was a very positive outcome when we kicked. We did give them possession, but they rarely managed to do anything with it." 

On facing Wales, he added: "It is going to be a different challenge this week. I don't think we are going to have the same threats as that [Japan provided].

"It's all about seeing the space, and I feel our wings have come so far over the last two years. They are really competing well in the air.

"They [Wales] have got very good wingers, so it is going to be a massive battle in the air. We don't always go out with a set plan of me just going up and kicking.

"We do read the game, and I listen a lot to what Handre [Pollard] is telling me."

John Mitchell wished New Zealand good luck if they want to spy on England ahead of the Rugby World Cup semi-final but says it would not give them an advantage.

England head coach Eddie Jones claimed someone was spotted filming England's training session on Tuesday.

Jones said it may have been a Japanese fan seen in an apartment overlooking the pitch, but admitted he used to spy on opponents.

Defence coach Mitchell does not believe the All Blacks would gain anything from seeing how England were preparing for a titanic battle in Yokohama City on Saturday.

"If that is what they want to do, and that is the way they want to prepare, good luck to them," the New Zealander said.

He added: "We just happened to be training where there are apartments above our tiny two-metre fence, so I am not sure about what the use of the tarpaulins are.

"The facilities have been excellent but it's an area where people live and there is the odd red light around. There was one up in the corner, which was a bit suspicious.

"It doesn't really worry me. This game is so dynamic now so I don't see any advantage in spying on a team."

Mitchell revealed spying is not uncommon at the highest level of rugby.

"When I took over the All Blacks in 2001 we had a manager who was highly military and he loved surveying the whole area," he said.

"To me, you can get too involved in it and create an anxiety in your group. There is enough pressure at this level without chasing around some blokes that might be in a building with a camera.

"I was with Sir Clive Woodward when we were going for a Grand Slam against Scotland and we chased somebody from one of the papers around the corner and caught him in a hedge.

"He was pretty unlucky actually but that was when the game was a lot different to what it is now. I've seen coaches spy, I've had other coaches spy. I've had mates spy as well, but I don't see any advantage."

Ross Moriarty feared his Rugby World Cup might be over just 90 seconds after he came on in Wales' quarter-final win over France.

Moriarty was called upon earlier than expected at Oita Stadium on Sunday, replacing the injured Josh Navidi in the first half.

The back-row was soon back on the sideline after being shown a yellow card for catching Gael Fickou with a high tackle.

Moriarty returned to score a decisive late try, having feared referee Jaco Peyper may have ended his tournament and potentially brought Wales' campaign to an end.

"I was just thinking, 'please, please don't be a red'," said Moriarty.

"That was definitely a big moment. I had been on for only 90 seconds and I was thinking to myself, 'if he gives me a red card, this is the end of me'.

"I knew how bad that would be for the team. I've been in that situation before and it's not a nice feeling. I never go into a game intending to do anything that would get me a card or put the team at any risk of not winning.

"It was a mistimed tackle. I closed my eyes and thought he was going to run round me, but he stopped and ducked under me."

He added: "It was nice for me to know I didn't cause any damage. I talked to him [Fickou] after the game and he was absolutely fine. We had a good laugh.

"I knew when I came back on I had to be very, very squeaky clean and make sure I didn't do any more damage to the team and myself.

"But it does stick in your mind. I was thinking, 'Please, no one come near me'. Sometimes people slip up in tackles, players duck and dive. It's a contact sport - it's inevitable sometimes. Fortunately, there were no other incidents in the game."

France lock Sebastien Vahaamahina has announced his retirement from Test rugby, just 24 hours after he received a costly red card in his country's Rugby World Cup quarter-final loss to Wales.

Les Bleus' run in Japan ended on Sunday when Warren Gatland's team edged a tight encounter 20-19.

France were leading 19-10 when Vahaamahina was dismissed nine minutes into the second half for elbowing Aaron Wainwright, and the 14 men were unable to hang on as Wales avenged their 2011 semi-final loss to the same opponents.

Vahaamahina, 28, has now sent a message to Eurosport Rugbyrama saying he is walking away from international rugby, a decision he claims he reached earlier this year.

"It's hard, very hard for me today - especially because, as I have planned for several months, it was my last match with the national team," he said.

"I hadn't made a public announcement of my retirement but the people impacted by the decision have known since the summer: [France coach] Jacques Brunel, [Clermont Auvergne coach] Franck Azema and several of the players.

"I wanted to have the best possible match and tournament to finish on... perhaps I wanted it too much. My desire and my aggression got the better of me."

The lock received his marching orders from referee Jaco Peyper, who is now the subject of a World Rugby investigation after he appeared to mock the man he dismissed in a picture taken with Wales fans.

A photo circulated on social media of Peyper with his elbow raised to a fan's chin.

France Rugby Federation vice-president Serge Simon demanded an explanation from the South African official.

He tweeted: "This photo if it is true is shocking and explanations will be necessary."

World Rugby confirmed they are looking into the matter.

"World Rugby is aware of a picture on social media of referee Jaco Peyper with a group of Wales fans taken after last night's [Sunday's] quarter-final between Wales and France in Oita," the governing body said.

"It would be inappropriate to comment further while we are establishing the facts."

The Rugby World Cup semi-finals will feature the top four teams in world rugby after the rankings were updated following the quarter-finals.

England and South Africa, courtesy of their convincing wins over Australia and hosts Japan respectively, both climbed one place.

Eddie Jones' side moved above Wales into second, behind defending world champions New Zealand - who England face on Saturday - and the Springboks leapfrogged Ireland.

Six Nations champions Wales beat France 20-19, though even a larger margin of victory would not have kept them from dropping down to third.

Japan had risen to their highest ever ranking after Australia's defeat to England, but the Wallabies moved back into sixth after the Brave Blossoms' loss to South Africa.

France are seventh, with Japan eighth, ahead of Scotland and Argentina, who complete the top 10.

Despite their exit at the hands of South Africa, Japan have won over many fans at the World Cup, with coach Jamie Joseph believing his side are well on their way to becoming a top-five team.

"The team has worked incredibly hard for three years, and this year we worked harder than we've worked ever before," Joseph told a news conference.

"That's put us in a really good position to strive for our goals, which is making the top five in the world."

Joe Schmidt admitted Ireland had "been a little bit flat" throughout 2019 after their Rugby World Cup hopes were emphatically ended by ruthless New Zealand on Saturday.

The All Blacks were at their clinical best in a one-sided quarter-final in Tokyo, scoring seven tries to ease to a 46-14 triumph and set up a last-four clash with England next weekend.

Ireland were architects of their own downfall, though, particularly during a first half when they made a number of errors while allowing their opponents to open up a 22-0 lead by the interval.

After celebrating Grand Slam glory in the Six Nations in 2018, as well as a first win over New Zealand on home soil, Ireland have failed to hit the same heights this year, with their World Cup exit a disappointing end to Schmidt's reign.

"It wasn't just the 22 points [in the first half], it was all the ball we gave them," Schmidt said in his post-match interview.

"I think we missed touch with penalties for us to get good field position three times, and that just meant we were chasing our tail. They had so much ball in our half, in our 22, that it was very, very tough going.

"We had a few chances in that first half, I think one of the tries – the third one the All Blacks scored -  we had a really good gap on the inside and just didn't quite play, didn't quite have the feel.

"We have been a little bit flat all season, which is disappointing. We were great last year and just maybe come off the top of that and haven't been where we've wanted to be all year."

As well as their head coach, Ireland also said their farewells to skipper Rory Best, who suffered a heavy defeat in his final international outing.

The hooker thanked the departing Schmidt for taking his game to a new level during an emotional interview before going on a lap of honour with his children after concluding media duties.

"The crowd have been fantastic, as has the support I have received from home, from the fans, whether we're at home or away, my team-mates, the coaching staff and, in particular, Joe," Best said.

"He brought Irish rugby and probably my game in particular to a new level. A lot of credit must go to him."

An emotional Rory Best doffed his cap to New Zealand after the two-time defending champions ended the Ireland captain's career with a crushing 46-14 Rugby World Cup quarter-final defeat.

The All Blacks were in a class of their own at Tokyo Stadium on Saturday, Aaron Smith claiming a quickfire first-half double and Beauden Barrett also crossing to put the holders 22-0 up at the break.

Codie Taylor, Matt Todd, George Bridge and Jordie Barrett touched down in the second half, with Ireland having to wait until 11 minutes from time for Robbie Henshaw to go under the posts and get them on the board before they were awarded a late penalty try.

New Zealand will face England in a blockbuster semi-final next week and Best was full of praise for Steve Hansen's men after they sent him into retirement on the back of a hammering.

The hooker said: "The All Blacks were fantastic tonight. We felt we prepared well, we felt we had a game plan, we felt we have enough in our armoury to beat them, but they came out of the blocks hard at us, put us on the back foot and like good sides do, they never let us off that again.

"I think they were just really, really clinical. They didn't let us get on the front foot and this is a front-foot, momentum game, especially in knockout rugby.

"The boys who are here will have to look back at this and see how they can get better, but right now you have to give enormous credit to the All Blacks - they were fantastic tonight."

Best was given a huge ovation when he was interviewed on the pitch after the match and the 37-year-old expressed his gratitude to head coach Joe Schmidt at the end of his reign.

"I've loved every minute of it," said Best. "The support that I've got from fans when we are at home and away, my team-mates, the coaching staff and public and in particular Joe, who is moving on.

"I think he brought Irish rugby and probably my game to a different level and a lot of credit and a lot of thanks must go to him."

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