October 24, 2019 / 8:18 AM / 24 days ago

Ford back at flyhalf for England v New Zealand

TOKYO (Reuters) - England coach Eddie Jones has reverted to his twin playmaker approach by recalling George Ford at flyhalf and shifting Owen Farrell to centre for Saturday’s World Cup semi-final against New Zealand, dropping Henry Slade to the bench.

Rugby Union - Rugby World Cup - England Training - Arcs Urayasu Park, Urayasu, Chiba, Japan - October 23, 2019 England's George Ford during training REUTERS/Peter Cziborra

That had been his preferred tactic in the pool phase of the tournament, when Ford was outstanding. But he dropped the Leicester man to the bench for the quarter-final win over Australia, against whom Jones said he had been “spectacular” after coming on during the second half.

Manu Tuilagi moves to outside centre while the pack is the same as against Australia, with the only other change being on the bench where Mark Wilson replaces Lewis Ludlam as back row cover.

Jonny May has recovered from a hamstring strain to start on the left wing, with Anthony Watson on the right and Elliot Daly at fullback.

Explaining his flyhalf switch, 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.”

Dropping Ford last week was seen as a way to stiffen the midfield to counter the physical threat of Australia centre Samu Kerevi. New Zealand midfield of Anton Lienert-Brown and Jack Goodhue brings a different, more technical and mobile threat, which Jones is confident Ford can handle.

Having him and Farrell back in harness, as they were for most of the World Cup warm-ups and pool games, gives more attacking options, with the likelihood that Ford will give way for Slade in the second half.

“We are up against a team with strengths all over the field,” said Ford. “We are going to have to be alive in every moment of the game.

“But where else would we rather be than playing in the semi-final of (a) World Cup against New Zealand?. If we can’t embrace that and have the mindset to really attack that, then we shouldn’t be in the position we’re in. It’s a pressurised game but we enjoy the pressure, we want to embrace it and I think we will do.”

Jones said the experience many of his players have had of beating New Zealand with the British and Irish Lions would be beneficial.

“It has helped having players here who have been on the Lions tour and played against New Zealand,” he said. “They have been involved in some of the biggest games in world rugby so this semi-final won’t faze them.”

There were 16 England players originally selected for that tour, where the series was drawn 1-1 after a win each and a draw in the final test, 13 of whom are in the current World Cup squad.

“New Zealand are a great team... like any good team, you have to take away time and space from them and you have to find areas you can pressure them,” Jones said. “We believe we have identified a number of areas where we can do that.”

England have beaten New Zealand only once in their last 16 meetings, though the last game between them was a close one as the All Blacks came from 15-0 down to win 16-15 at Twickenham a year ago.

They last reached the final in 2007, losing to South Africa, while New Zealand are seeking a third successive title and have not lost a World Cup game since the 2007 quarter-finals.

Editing by Nick Tattersall and Mike Collett-White

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