Owen Farrell and Anthony Watson on England vs New Zealand - Rugby World Cup semi-final
England will face New Zealand on Saturday October 26 (9am ko) for a place in the 2019 Rugby World Cup final
By Michael Cantillon in Tokyo
Last Updated: 23/10/19 10:12am
England pair Owen Farrell and Anthony Watson spoke exclusively to Sky Sports ahead of their enormous Rugby World Cup semi-final clash with New Zealand in Yokohama on Saturday...
Wind back the clock four years this week, and Owen Farrell was lining out at Kingsholm, kicking four penalties in a narrow 17-15 Saracens victory over Gloucester - a Premiership game which featured one try in front of 12,749 people.
Anthony Watson was on the wing in Coventry's Ricoh Arena, as club side Bath lost 16-9 to Wasps in front of an even smaller crowd of 10,093.
Both had had to suffer the indignation of being part of the first host nation in rugby history - and with Japan's latest exploits, still the only - to be knocked out of their own Rugby World Cup at the pool stage just two weeks prior.
The only England side in 32 years to fail to make the quarter-finals of rugby's showpiece event.
That same weekend, southern hemisphere quartet New Zealand, South Africa, Australia and Argentina were contesting the semi-finals of the 2015 Rugby World Cup at the home of English rugby: Twickenham.
Roll forward to the present day, and the pair are in a vastly different scenario sitting in a Tokyo hotel on the edge of Disneyland in the land of the rising run.
Having progressed from a World Cup pool featuring fellow Tier 1 nations Argentina and France - albeit having not played Les Bleus due to Typhoon Hagibis - Eddie Jones' side went on to dispatch Australia 40-16 in their quarter-final at Oita's roofed arena.
On Saturday, the challenge of the double reigning world champion All Blacks await in the tournament's last four in Yokohama.
Part of an infamous England squad in 2015, Farrell and Watson are now key men in one which has booked a first semi-final place for 12 years.
And having played in front of a combined total of 22,842 spectators across two games this time four years ago, with the attentions of the entire rugby world firmly focused elsewhere, they will now play in front of over 70,000 this weekend with all of a rugby persuasion around the globe watching.
"It's a massive game," England skipper Farrell told Sky Sports on Tuesday. "We're all massively excited for it. But we have to be aware that it's Tuesday today and we don't want to play the game today or tomorrow.
"We want to be building up to it and so far the lads are calm and we are in a good place.
"We're properly concentrating on ourselves, we're looking at what we can do better from last week, about what we can make sure we do at the weekend and what place we can get to."
Watson, who missed a year and a half of England duty before the World Cup due to a serious Achilles injury, added: "I've been taking it as it comes. Trying to maximise the week's training and trying to improve as much as I can during the week, and then letting it all out on Saturday.
"I was relatively happy [against Australia] but most people will tell you there's still things to improve on both as an individual and as a collective. I'm looking to work on those things this week and hopefully get a crack on Saturday.
"Four years is a long time, and a lot of the stuff we've gone through has been to prepare us for this situation. Every time we've been in camp, a lot of the talk has been about preparing and getting our best ready for this World Cup."
Having failed to win on eight occasions (six losses, two draws) in the four years since their most recent World Cup triumph, there was a preceding view heading to Japanese shores that the All Blacks were somewhat vulnerable.
Yet, their polished opening 23-13 Pool B victory over fellow tournament favourites South Africa in Yokohama demonstrated the firepower they possess.
Their brutally efficient and dominant 46-14 quarter-final victory over Ireland in Tokyo on Saturday - not long ago, the form side in world rugby themselves - was a palpable reminder of what they are capable of.
Both Watson and Farrell tasted victory over New Zealand on Kiwi soil for the British & Irish Lions back in the summer of 2017, however, while Farrell was also a part of the England side that beat the All Blacks at Twickenham in 2012.
"Look, they are a fantastic team and to be as good as they've been for as long as they have been is unbelievable," Farrell says of Saturday's semi-final opponents.
"But I don't think anybody here thinks they're unbeatable. I don't believe that.
"We've got to make sure we're in a good place come Saturday to be able to deal with anything. That was the case last week and we need to put the work in to be in that place again."
"Everyone builds them up massively and you've got to acknowledge the repeated success they've had, but they're humans, they bleed like we bleed," Watson says.
"We'll be ready for them."
Farrell added: "We want to enjoy this week. And not just Saturday, but every day leading in. The training started today and even though it couldn't have been windier and was pouring down with rain, lads were buzzing. It's a good place to be."
When Eddie Jones took charge of England in the aftermath of their 2015 World Cup malaise, he spoke in his very first meeting with the players about becoming the best side in the world.
A master of deflection, Jones was up to his usual antics at Tuesday's press conference, mentioning on countless occasions how all the pressure is on New Zealand.
The 59-year-old even went so far at one point as to suggest his side's training in the torrential downpour at Arcs Urayasu Park in Chiba had been spied upon from nearby flat windows.
"It's [spying] no issue for us," Farrell said when asked of Jones' claims. "There's not too much hiding that you can do anyway and not too much surprise that can come out of our training.
"I think when it comes to big games like these, it's about doing the simple things unbelievably well.
"It's nothing for us as players that - pressure is something which is perceived, it's on the outside. We're excited and that's all that we can talk about."
Watson responded: "I love it. I've loved having Eddie as a coach the last three/four years. He's been awesome for me as an individual.
"He's always very honest, tells me exactly how I need to improve, where I need to improve.
"And from a team perspective, our clarity and our game-plan is very clear every week, which is exactly what you want from your head coach. I've loved having him and I'm sure all the boys would agree with me."
After a four-year reign during which England have gone from Grand Slam winners to Six Nations wooden spoon contenders and back up again, has Jones timed their preparation perfectly?
Saturday's semi-final clash is the toughest assignment possible. It's the most meaningful game in English rugby for over a decade, but the players appear relaxed, teetering on the precipice of something very special.