FOCUS ON FORD TO FORGE RUNS PAST ALL BLACKS
▶ Selection of Jones for England’s World Cup semi-final smacks of a plan to go with the boot
Ihave stated on more than one occasion, that I don’t think England will win the World Cup with George Ford starting at No 10. But he is in the form of his life, and I would love to be proved wrong. None of us is on the ground with the team. I am not crouched over a laptop watching and analysing New Zealand, and seeing where the opportunities might lie for England. We are not seeing them train, and have not got the feel the England management do for form and individual energy levels.
Coaches earn their corn on this sort of stuff, and – have no doubt about it – it is a team that can beat the All Blacks.
They will need to have a precise kicking game to avoid any wayward ball to the brilliant New Zealand back three of Beauden Barrett, Sevu Reece and George Bridge.
They will need the big-ball carriers of Billy and Mako Vunipola, Kyle Sinckler, Tuilagi and Maro Itoje to be picking good lines to get through, or on the edge of the All Black defenders.
The big call England’s coach Eddie Jones has made is to bring Ford back into start at fly-half, with Owen Farrell shifted out to start at inside-centre again. It is the combination England played in the pool games against Tonga, United States and Argentina.
In the quarter-final against Australia they went for Manu Tuilagi as a more traditional inside centre, and it is the combination I preferred.
Though they did not get too much possession, they looked dangerous.
England must think they will have parity of possession in this game, and that New Zealand will afford them a little more time and space to get that 10-12 axis working.
They will also have put Ford in there for his kicking game, though they do lose their left-footed option at outside centre with Henry Slade.
Elliot Daly has a great left foot, too, so they could still use his kicking skills, and
Ben Youngs may well be box kicking a little more too.
For me though, this selection smacks of England going with the boot, and if New Zealand drop off, then to run.
The risk run is the All Blacks don’t afford them the space to get into the outside-centre channel, and free up Manu to get beyond the gain line.
Of course, just because they are wearing 12 or 13 on their backs, it doesn’t mean they will always play there. I can certainly see some switching around to play to their strengths.
In the 2015 Rugby World Cup, the England midfield was not settled, and the combinations never fired. Their early exit was based largely around a lack of cohesion in those areas.
Four years later we see more switching about – but it is from a winning position, and it is tactical.
For New Zealand, Steve Hansen has made only one change with Scott Barrett taking Sam Cane’s place in the back-row.
Scott Barrett has never started there before in a Test. It shows you they want a bit more bulk, and more set piece options but it is more of a tinker than the bigger change England have made.
They will also hope that their 10/15 combination of Richie Mo’unga and Beauden Barrett continues to drive the team forward.
They are the only side to have two world-class second receivers in those positions, and they have been superlative all tournament.
England know that, and if you look at the game like chess, these selections could be translated as: England will kick more to try to take Beauden out of the game and keep him tied in.
The All Blacks realise it will be more set-piece and territory based so have gone for a little more bulk and option at lineout and kick off.
Possession will determine all this, as will momentum. A card, or an intercept, or a piece of genius that suddenly gives one side a decent lead will probably decide this encounter.