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I needed to drop Ford to beef things up: Jones

England v Australia, World Cup Quarter-Final, Oita, Saturday, 8.15am

Moving in: England’s Owen Farrell (left) will take over fly-half duties from George Ford (right)
Moving in: England’s Owen Farrell (left) will take over fly-half duties from George Ford (right)
Henry Slade

By Duncan Bech

England have dropped George Ford in order to beef up their midfield in expectation of a Samu Kerevi-led assault from Australia when the rivals clash in tomorrow's World Cup quarter-final.

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In a shock selection by Eddie Jones, Ford loses the fly-half duties to captain Owen Farrell, with Manu Tuilagi and Henry Slade paired together in the centres.

Ford has been superb since his restoration as ringmaster during the warm-up series for Japan 2019 and started all three group games in the position, but he is confined to a bench role for the Oita Stadium showdown.

Instead, Farrell will act as chief conductor as Jones reverts to his first-choice midfield for the Six Nations.

The decision has shades of the World Cup four years ago when Ford was axed for the pivotal group game against Wales in favour of Farrell, who on that occasion formed a heavyweight trio alongside Sam Burgess and Brad Barrett.

Back then it was the ball-carrying threat of Jamie Roberts that shaped Stuart Lancaster's thinking, now it is Kerevi's tackle-busting brilliance over the last 18 months that has influenced Jones.

"We just feel this is our best combination for this week. Kerevi is a damaging ball carrier and defensively we feel like it's a pretty strong 10-12-13 combination," Jones said.

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"We know Australia are a high possession and high phase team. That's how they want to play and so there's going to be a lot of defending in the midfield area.

"We think those three guys are well equipped to handle it. We need to defend with brutality.

"We believe we've got the defensive capabilities to handle them and cause them a few problems. George is disappointed but he knows he's got an important role."

Jones has acted conservatively by dropping the in-form Ford and giving Slade his first start since June 1, when Exeter lost to Saracens in the Gallagher Premiership final.

Knee ligament damage prevented him from playing in the four warm-up Tests and he has been limited to 40 minutes in this World Cup after his comeback against Tonga was ended by a recurrence of the same injury.

When asked about how he will respond to Jones' call to be "brutal" in defence, Slade said: "My job comes into it as an outside back, making good decisions. You can't be brutal and lose your head, so it's about being physical and brutal and making those good decisions.

"It's really nice to have that vote of confidence by starting this game."

Jones has made three changes in personnel and two positional switches in pursuit of a semi-final against either New Zealand or Ireland.

Mako Vunipola is restored at loosehead prop after successfully making his latest comeback from a hamstring injury against Argentina, England's last outing after their Pool C finale against France was cancelled due to Typhoon Hagibis.

Vunipola's return means Joe Marler drops to the bench where he joins second-row George Kruis, who lost his place in the starting XV to Courtney Lawes.

The two positional switches are Farrell's shift to fly-half and Tuilagi's move from outside to inside centre.

Billy Vunipola has recovered from the ankle injury sustained against Argentina nearly two weeks ago after proving his fitness on Wednesday, enabling him to continue at No.8.

Belfast Telegraph


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