Henry Slade likely to make way for Ford in semi-final switch
• George Kruis also expected to replace Courtney Lawes
Gerard Meagher in Tokyo
Wed 23 Oct 2019 22.00 BST Last modified on Wed 23 Oct 2019 22.44 BST
George Ford is expected to face New Zealand in the World Cup semi-final, with Eddie Jones springing another England selection surprise. Ford was dropped to the bench for the quarter-final win over Australia and Owen Farrell moved to fly-half but it is believed Jones plans to return to his dual playmakers against the All Blacks on Saturday.
Jones will announce his team for England’s first World Cup semi-final for 12 years on Thursday morning and it is also thought Jonny May is winning his fitness race to take a place on the wing. In addition, George Kruis is expected to come into the second row in place of Courtney Lawes to strengthen the lineout.
mission against the Wallabies was a surprise given he had been arguably England’s outstanding player of the tournament until then, but Jones was wary of Australia’s powerful centre Samu Kerevi.
New Zealand do not pose a similar threat in their midfield and Jones has repeatedly said he takes a “horses for courses” approach to selection. Like England, New Zealand kick more than most teams, which would further explain why Jones would turn to Ford. His recall means Henry Slade, who looked decidedly rusty against Australia despite his delightful assist for May’s second try, is set to miss out.
Last week Jones was adamant Ford had not been dropped, insisting he had merely “changed his role”. He was also full of praise for Ford’s performance from the bench, describing his 19-minute cameo as “absolutely spectacular”. Advertisement
For England’s record-breaking win over Ireland in August, Jones turned to the Ford-Farrell partnership for the first time in 14 months. Since then they have started pool matches against Tonga and Argentina together, while Ford was named man of the match against USA when Farrell was on the bench.
There is every chance the second Test of the 2017 British & Irish Lions tour of New Zealand has also influenced Jones’s thinking. Farrell started at fly-half in the first Test but the Lions were outgunned in Auckland. A week later in Wellington, Johnny Sexton was handed the No 10 jersey with Farrell shifting to outside-centre, and the touring side went on to inflict a first home defeat on New Zealand for eight years. The All Blacks have since turned to a dual playmaker system themselves with Richie Mo’unga emerging as the first-choice fly-half and Beauden Barrett moving to full-back this year.
Jones was asked if it was becoming a trend and he replied: “Twenty-five years ago we used to play with two stand-offs, one chunky and one slender, and they were a great complement to each other, so I don’t think it’s a new thing in the game.
“You look back at the great Crusaders side and they had Dan Carter and Aaron Mauger playing together, so I think it just happens that the game evolves and at certain times it’s useful – particularly the way the game is at the moment. You saw the amount of contest at the breakdown
. It’s hard to get fast ball, so your ability to find space through having two guys who have got great vision is certainly an advantage.”
The All Blacks coach, Steve Hansen, predicted Jones would return to his Ford-Farrell axis earlier this week. He said: “You’ve got to assume they could bring George Ford back, so you plan for that. Through the Six Nations he mixed it up and he’s mixed it up in this tournament. You have to think he’s going to do it again. They’ve got a blueprint, as do we, regardless of who you put in the numbers one to 23.”
May is likely to continue on the wing after Wednesday’s decisive training session. He has had to wear a muscle stimulator on his right leg this week and was absent from the start of the session but it is believed he proved his fitness during sprinting drills. Jack Nowell took a full part and will be hopeful of a place in the 23.
Kruis’s expected inclusion comes after England struggled at the lineout in their only meeting with New Zealand under Jones. Last autumn the All Blacks clinched a 16-15 victory, with England losing five of their 10 lineouts in the second half.
England’s security staff were on alert following claims by Jones the squad’s training had been spied on but the forwards coach, Steve Borthwick, said there were no plans to change lineout calls.
Jones claimed England’s training session on Tuesday was filmed from a nearby apartment block but Borthwick said: “We’ll be continuing our preparation and training the way we normally do.”
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