LET’S start with some harsh reality. If Saturday morning’s World Cup semi-final turns into a classic exhibition of open, running rugby, England lose. You don’t beat the all-conquering All Blacks by playing them at their own game. Especially when, as last weekend’s quarter-final annihilation of Ireland proved, their game is in pretty good working order.

Man for man, attacking play for attacking play, New Zealand hold the aces. But as anyone who plays poker knows, picking up a pair of aces doesn’t automatically mean you’re going to win. If England play to their strengths, and stick rigidly to their game plan, they are capable of making it to the final. This is definitely an occasion when the ends have to justify the means.

Where might England start with a competitive advantage? Up front probably, and at the set-piece. Assemble a combined line-up from Saturday’s opponents and the backline will be dominated by players wearing black. Get to the front row though, and all three picks would be English. In Mako Vunipola, Jamie George and Kyle Sinckler, England boast the best front three on display in Japan, and it can also be argued that their back row is superior to that of the All Blacks.

Billy Vunipola might not have been at his explosive best so far this tournament, but there were signs in England’s quarter-final win over Australia that any fears over his ankle injury are evaporating. With another week of training under his belt, he should be in peak condition in two days' time.

Tom Curry and Sam Underhill have been England’s breakthrough stars of the tournament, and as they pored over the footage from last weekend’s quarter-finals, the New Zealand analysts will have noted the destructive way in which Eddie Jones’ ‘kamikaze kids’ dismantled Australia’s attacking game.

The pair made 36 tackles between them against the Wallabies, taking a wrecking ball to the reputation David Pocock and Michael Hooper established at the last World Cup as their speed and agility proved too much for their opponents.

Their performance has already secured England an early psychological victory ahead of Saturday’s game, with New Zealand head coach Steve Hansen feeling the need to beef up his own back row by moving Scott Barrett from the second row, even though he has never previously started an international as a flanker.

The All Blacks respect the strength of the English pack, and Eddie Jones’ side have to play on that. Target the breakdown, but be sensible. Do not over-commit, leaving the rest of the defensive line light. Try to utilise the attacking maul, something the All Blacks do not often encounter in the Rugby Championship. And be clinical at the set-piece, especially the line-out, which disintegrated under All Black pressure in last November’s Test at Twickenham. Jones could have gone for George Kruis in an attempt to strengthen his line-out options, but has show faith in Courtney Lawes, who struggled in the autumn. He has to repay that faith.

What about when England have possession? By recalling George Ford and shuffling Owen Farrell across to the centre, Jones has acknowledged the importance of England’s kicking game. More than anything else, it is likely to make or break their chances.

Against a team like the All Blacks, there is always a delicate balance to be struck between targeting territorial gains with some astute kicking as opposed to playing into the opposition’s hands by kicking the ball back to them.

New Zealand’s backs want possession, so it can seem counter-productive to offer it to them. However, England’s kick-chase has developed into a potent attacking weapon rather than a defensive ploy over the last couple of years, and it is one of the best ways of disrupting the All Blacks’ own running plans.

Ford’s box-kicks will have to be on the money, and if at all possible, the fly-half should be looking to target Beauden Barrett. The former fly-half has been a counter-attacking sensation since being switched to full-back, and his ability to slot into the line as an extra receiver has added yet another element to the All Blacks’ attacking play. He is yet to be seriously tested under the high ball though, and his effectiveness as an attacking fulcrum is clearly affected if he is prone on the floor with two English tacklers on top of him. Initially, at least, that should be England’s approach.

Ford will be crucial when it comes to dictating England’s game plan, and his half-back partner, Ben Youngs, will be pivotal in disrupting New Zealand’s. Last weekend, All Blacks scrum-half Aaron Smith ran amok against Ireland, sniping around the scrum and causing havoc in the loose. He was afforded far too much time and space, and Youngs has to take his lead from South Africa’s Faf de Klerk, who has made knocking Smith out of his stride something of a trademark. You don’t really get man-markers in rugby union, but when it comes to Youngs’ approach at the weekend, it should be as close as you get.

Of course, England could do all of that and still be found wanting. New Zealand have not won the last two World Cups by accident, and for all that they have had the occasional wobble over the last 12 months, they remain formidable opposition.

Jones’ talk of wilting under pressure seems redundant given the All Blacks triumphed on home soil eight years ago despite the weight of so much history bearing down on them, so England have to focus on getting their own game right.

They have match-winners. Manu Tualigi is a midfield wrecking ball, and both Anthony Watson and Jonny May have been in sparkling form on their respective wings in the last four weeks. In a free-for-all, they would not be embarrassed.

They would almost certainly fall short in such a scenario though, hence why they have to eschew the temptation to try to match the All Blacks in a beauty contest. Come the end of Saturday’s game, you will not get extra marks for aesthetics or the quality of your attacking. The scoreboard will be the only thing that matters, and England are capable of coming out on top if they stick to their power game.

Heft and hard hits. It is an approach that has served English rugby well in the past, and sometimes, the old ways are still the best.