Sky Sports News reporter Gail Davis reflects on England’s squad announcement ahead of their Rugby World Cup quarter-final test with Australia in Oita, after George Ford’s surprising omission from the starting line-up.
Just when you thought you’d got Eddie Jones all worked out… the England coach goes and springs a huge World Cup surprise.
George Ford, who has played exceptionally well over these first three games in the World Cup, has been dropped to the bench for England’s biggest game in eight years.
No matter how many times Jones says “Ford will have a huge part to play in the game”, you cannot help feeling surprised and also gutted for the fly-half.
- Farrell starts at fly-half for England
- Jones: We don’t see it as dropping Ford
He had a similar fate delivered to him by Stuart Lancaster four years ago before England faced Wales in the pool game at Twickenham. Jones will certainly be hoping that his decision works out better.
Owen Farrell moves to fly-half as England revert to the midfield that served them well throughout this year’s Six Nations, particularly during that opening win in Dublin.
Since then, Ford has spent those months fighting his way back into this England starting line-up – “I am not sure if it will knock his confidence” was the reaction of Farrell, a close friend of Ford’s since childhood.
Jones always has a key message in these weeks. “Defend with brutality” is one we have heard a few times in the build-up to this one, which perhaps explains Ford’s exclusion.
The Leicester player hasn’t missed a tackle so far at this World Cup, but he has not yet faced anyone like Samu Kerevi, one of the stars of this World Cup.
Jones says the way Australia defend will give plenty of opportunities for England to attack, but there is going to be some big guys coming down the channel, so Ford will have to wait his turn.
- Australia ready for England scrum battle
- England ready for ‘dangerous’ Australia
Courtney Lawes’ inclusion over George Kruis does not come as a surprise with the emphasis on brutality; the physical edge winning out over lineout expertise.
Lawes has played less than half a game of rugby since May, but Mako Vunipola, who according to his brother Billy has felt a bit of a “food bill” so far on tour, starts the quarter-final.
“No concerns at all”, said the England coach [regarding Mako]. “We’ve pushed him as hard as we can in training and he’s come through well.”
The rest of the starting line-up is as expected – Hooper and Pocock versus Underhill and Curry is certainly intriguing and no doubt pretty exciting for Curry, who four years ago studied the Australian pair and used them as inspiration.
He has come a very long way in the years since. So have England – but is it far enough?