TOKYO (AP) — England coach Eddie Jones made a bold and attacking call Thursday in restoring flyhalf George Ford to the team for the Rugby World Cup semifinal against New Zealand, a move that will see Owen Farrell shift to the centers.
Farrell, England’s captain, seemed more at home as a No. 10 in the 40-16 win over Australia in the quarterfinals last weekend, with Henry Slade having some game-defining moments at inside center.
But in Jones’ only change to his starting lineup a week on, Slade drops to the bench for Saturday’s game to make room for the recall of Ford in what the coach called a “horses for courses” selection.
“Work rate 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 work rate 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 center Semu Kerevi’s ability to punch a hole through the flyhalf channel. Farrell is seen as a better defender than Ford.
With Farrell now back as inside center, 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.
No. 8 Billy Vunipola wins his 50th cap for England, the 2003 champion which is playing in the World Cup semifinals for the first time since 2007.
“New Zealand is a great team — they have an impressive winning record since the last Rugby World Cup,” Jones said, referring to the All Blacks’ 84% 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 that earned a 1-1 series draw against the All Blacks in 2017.
England has 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 after coming 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 semifinal won’t faze them.”
England team: Elliot Daly, Anthony Watson, Manu Tuilagi, Owen Farrell (captain), Jonny May, George Ford, Ben Youngs; Billy Vunipola, Sam Underhill, Tom Curry, Courtney Lawes, Maro Itoje, Kyle Sinckler, Jamie George, Mako Vunipola. Reserves: Luke Cowan-Dickie, Joe Marler, Dan Cole, George Kruis, Mark Wilson, Willi Heinz, Henry Slade, Jonathan Joseph.
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Steve Douglas is at www.twitter.com/sdouglas80