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

The National - News - - SPORT - BEN RYAN Rugby union colum­nist Ben Ryan coached Fiji to Olympic gold in Rio in 2016, and won the Dubai Rugby Sevens four times – twice with Eng­land, and twice with Fiji

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.

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