England coach Eddie Jones has made a bold and attacking call in restoring stand-off George Ford to the team for the Rugby World Cup semifinal against New Zealand– a move that will see Owen Farrell shift to the centres.
Farrell, England’s captain, seemed more at home as a No 10 in the 40-16 win over Australia in the quarter-finals last weekend, with Henry Slade having some game-defining moments at inside centre.
But, a week on, in Jones’ only change to his starting line-up, Slade drops to the bench for tomorrow’s game to make room for the recall of Ford in what the coach called a “horses for courses” selection.
“Workrate is going to be important,” Jones said. “Whenever you play against New Zealand, your work off the ball is going to be massively important. They like to move the ball around, they are very good on transition, and George’s workrate off the ball has been absolutely exceptional.”
Ford has been in superb form this World Cup yet still found himself demoted to the bench against Australia, with Jones potentially concerned about destructive Wallabies centre Semu Kerevi’s ability to punch a hole through the stand-off channel. Farrell is seen as a better defender than Ford.
With Farrell now back at inside centre, Jones has reverted to the twin-playmaker option.
“I’ve got a different role this week to last week,” Ford said, “but my job for the team doesn’t change.”
Jonny May recovered from what England called a “twinge” to his hamstring to take his place on the left wing.
In a change among the replacements, Mark Wilson came in for fellow flanker Lewis Ludlam.
Billy Vunipola wins his 50th cap at No 8 for England, the 2003 champions, who are playing in the World Cup semi-finals for the first time since 2007.
“New Zealand are a great team – they have an impressive winning record since the last Rugby World Cup,” Jones said, referring to the All Blacks’ 84 per cent win ratio over the past four years. “Like any good team, you have to take away time and space from them and you have to find areas you can pressure them. We believe we have identified a number of areas where we can do that.”
Thirteen players in the England squad were part of the British and Irish Lions party which earned a 1-1 series draw against the All Blacks in 2017.
England have only played once against New Zealand since the last World Cup, however, and the All Blacks won that match 16-15 at Twickenham last year – coming back from 15-0 down.
“The squad,” Jones said, “has approached the game well with real maturity. It has helped having players here who have been on the 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.”