George Ford’s omission from the England starting lineup for Saturday’s crunch quarter-final against Australia comes as a surprise, but coach Eddie Jones says the flyhalf knows his role in the squad.
Ford has been named on the bench with Jones instead opting to reinstate Owen Farrell to lead the side out for the clash at Oita Stadium.
The England management is clearly aware of the threat posed by the Wallabies’ powerful backs, particularly the hard-running Samu Kerevi who regularly targets the opposition flyhalf with his strong carries. Ford’s size and defensive ability might have been the determining factors as to why he is not starting, considering the Wallabies are likely to eye the 10-12 channel.
‘Well, George is in the 23. We have a starting and a finishing team so he’s going to finish for us instead of starting,’ said Jones following Thursday’s team announcement.
‘I spoke to him this morning and obviously he’s disappointed but he knows his role in the team. He’s got an important role in the team and that’s how we’ve spoken all along.
‘We’ve left a lot of good players out of the squad of 31 and they’re disappointed, but he’s got a significant role with us to play. We’re always looking to pick the right team for the right game and we feel this is the best starting and finishing team for this game.’
Joe Launchbury is the unfortunate lock to miss out on selection with Jones picking George Kruis to provide cover for Maro Itoje and Courtney Lawes. England have also been boosted by the return to fitness of brothers Billy and Mako Vunipola, with the latter set to earn his first start of the tournament.
‘It’s just one of those tough decisions,’ continued Jones. ‘We have four great locks in the squad, Joe Launchbury has been training outstandingly well. It just comes down to who we think is the best fit for this game.
‘He’s [Mako] been training exceptionally well. We feel that his experience and his ability to be influential within the team warrants his selection. Joe Marler has been great for us as has Ellis Genge, again it’s a difficult selection.’
With the breakdown set to be a fiercly contested area come Saturday, Jones is hoping that his ‘Kamikaze kids’, Sam Underhill and Tom Curry, will put in another strong showing when the young loose forwards come up against veterans David Pocock and Michael Hooper.
‘I think it’s going to be a great contest. Pocock has probably, over the last 10 years, been the foremost No 7 in the world. Hooper is a massively important player for Australia. He’s a link player, takes the ball forward a lot once they get inside the opposition’s 22. He’s obviously a key leader for the team but our two young boys are just getting better every game.
‘Curry has improved his lineout jumping immensely over the last six or eight weeks, Underhill’s probably the most combative openside flanker I’ve seen for a long time. It’s just going to be a battle at the breakdown which it always is between the six and seven.’
Farrell, who will line up next to Manu Tuilagi and Henry Slade, is fully aware of the defensive challenge they will face come Saturday.
‘Australia defend a certain way and we believe we can trouble their defence, and defensively, too, we feel like it’s a pretty strong 10-12-13 combination. We know Australia are a high-possession team, they are a high-phase team and that’s how they want to play, so there’s going to be a lot of defending in that area and we think we are well equipped to handle it.’
Kick-off is at 9:15am with the winner of Saturday’s first quarter-final set to face either New Zealand or Ireland on 26 October in Yokohama.
Photo: EPA/Buddhika Weerasinghe