'We're going to get them' says Itoje as England eye New Zealand scalp

Tokyo (AFP) –


Maro Itoje reckons this "feels like the time we're going to get them" as England bid to end New Zealand's eight-year reign as champions with a World Cup semi-final win over the All Blacks on Saturday.

New Zealand have been undefeated at the global showpiece since a shock 2007 quarter-final loss to France.

They have also won 33 of their 41 Tests against England, who last beat the All Blacks seven years ago.

In their most recent meeting, however, New Zealand had to come from 15-0 behind to win 16-15 at Twickenham in November last year, with England flanker Sam Underhill having a try controversially disallowed by a marginal offside decision.

Moreover, athletic lock Itoje is one of nine players in England's matchday 23 for Saturday's semi-final in Yokohama who were involved in the British and Irish Lions' dramatic drawn Test series in New Zealand two years ago.

"I learned a lot about New Zealand, their culture, how they play the game, how good and clinical they are and how to get them," he said.

"This weekend feels like the time we're going to get them."

New Zealand booked their place in the last four with a 46-14 rout of Ireland but England were no slouches either during a 40-16 quarter-final hammering of Australia.

- 'Beat the best' -

And Itoje said it was England's form, rather than his Lions' experience, that underpinned his faith in their chances.

"I think we're progressing game by game and the maturity and calmness of the squad is improving," he explained.

Victory over New Zealand has long been the measure of a Test side, with the 24-year-old adding: "If you want to be the best, you’ve got to beat the best... I still believe that if we play our best rugby, we will win."

Itoje's debut international season saw England win the 2016 Six Nations Championship with a grand slam.

But just two years later they lost five Tests in a row, three Championship reverses followed by two defeats in South Africa.

"That was a tough time for us," said Itoje. "But I think those experiences make the resolve of the team stronger.

"Ironically, as a result of that, we have become tighter as a group. We have seen each other when we have been vulnerable and that often brings teams closer."

Saturday's semi-final promises to be a defining match of Eddie Jones's four-year reign as England coach.

The Australian, in charge of his native Wallabies when they lost to England in the 2003 World Cup final, was appointed to his current post following England's first-round exit on home soil at the 2015 edition.

Yet he soon made no secret of his belief they could be crowned champions in Japan.

All of Itoje's 32 England appearances have come under Jones.

But the dynamic second row said his faith in England dated back to their 2007 World Cup final defeat by a South Africa side being advised by the veteran coach.

"I've always believed, even as a young rugby fan," Itoje recalled.

"I remember watching the 2007 Rugby World Cup –- that was probably the first World Cup where rugby really captured my imagination.

"I've always seen England as a team that should be there competing for World Cups and should be there winning World Cups," explained the Saracens second row.

"As a young rugby player you watch all these tournaments and think: 'I want to win. I want to be part of something special.'

"When Eddie said that, I hadn't played for England at that point, but I definitely bought into it from the jump."