If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. How many times must the idiom have gone through Eddie Jones’ head before announcing his squad selection this morning? Because England really weren’t broke on Saturday: their performance against Australia was exceptional and dominant, as they racked up 40 points against an Australian side unable to cope with England’s aggression, speed and strength upfront.
However, Eddie Jones has once again toyed with England’s back-line in preparation for Saturday’s semi-final against New Zealand, reverting to the Ford-Farrell ten-twelve pairing whilst shifting Manu Tuilagi to outside centre and leaving Henry Slade on the bench.
This is a brave move – how many people would change a match-winning team in preparation for their biggest game in twelve years – but not a foolish one, and it serves again to highlight Jones’ creativity and versatility.
Unlike Australia – who possessed 108 kilogram Samu Kerevi – New Zealand pose less of a physical threat in the centres, meaning the defensive assuredness of Owen Farrell and Tuilagi at ten and twelve is less essential. Furthermore, George Ford’s tactical kicking out of hand is more accomplished than Farrell’s allowing England the option to pin the All Blacks back and play for territory.
Ireland failed to take the few chances against New Zealand, and any team facing this All Blacks side must be direct and clinical. Ford is both of those things, and his ability to find gaps in tight areas will have hugely influenced Jones’ selection.
Meanwhile, Steve Hanson has made a change of his own, selecting Scott Barrett to play at blindside flanker. Barrett, traditionally a lock, will add considerable weight to the New Zealand pack, revealing the All Blacks’ concern for England’s heft upfront.
Jones’ decision is indicative of England bringing the game to the All Blacks. England cannot be cautious or afford to let New Zealand dictate the speed and tempo of the game. Picking Ford at ten is essentially an attacking selection; England have to believe their best game is one that can beat New Zealand and having Ford and Farrell on the pitch is conducive to England playing their best game.
England: Daly; Watson, Tuilagi, Farrell (capt), May; Ford, Youngs; M Vunipola, George, Sinckler, Itoje, Lawes, Curry, Underhill, B Vunipola.
Replacements: Cowan-Dickie, Marler, Cole, Kruis, Wilson, Heinz, Slade, Joseph.
New Zealand: B. Barrett; Reece, Goodhue, Lienert-Brown, Bridge; Mo’unga, Smith; Moody, Taylor, Laulala, Retallick, Whitelock, S. Barrett, Savea, Read (capt).
Replacements: Coles, Tuungafasi, Ta’avao, Tuipulotu, Cane, Perenara, Williams, J. Barrett.