Ford set to re­turn as Jones tar­gets All Blacks mid­field

Fly-half to re­unite with Far­rell in semi-fi­nal Kruis makes come­back as coach shuf­fles pack

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Rugby World Cup - By Gavin Mairs RUGBY NEWS COR­RE­SPON­DENT in Tokyo

Ge­orge Ford is ex­pected to make a dra­matic re­turn to the Eng­land start­ing XV and be re­united with Owen Far­rell in the back­line to face New Zea­land in the World Cup semi-fi­nal on Satur­day.

Ford was dropped for Eng­land’s quar­ter-fi­nal against Aus­tralia, but it is un­der­stood the Le­ices­ter fly­half is to be re­in­stated for the big­gest game of Ed­die Jones’s four-year ten­ure as head coach, with Far­rell switch­ing to in­side cen­tre and Manu Tuilagi start­ing at 13.

It is also be­lieved Jones will make a change to his sec­ond row pair­ing, re­call­ing Ge­orge Kruis in an at­tempt to counter the All Blacks’ po­tent de­fen­sive line-out. The Saracens for­ward, who is renowned for his call­ing ex­per­tise, would re­place Court­ney Lawes.

Jonny May, who missed the start of Eng­land’s train­ing ses­sion near their Dis­ney­land re­sort in Tokyo Bay, is ex­pected to be named in the start­ing XV.

Jones will give him ev­ery op­por­tu­nity to prove his fit­ness after he picked up a ham­string in­jury dur­ing his 50th ap­pear­ance, which pro­duced two tries against the Wal­la­bies.

May was spot­ted wear­ing a mus­cle stim­u­la­tor strapped around his thigh yes­ter­day, be­fore tak­ing part in the fi­nal ma­jor train­ing ses­sion of the week.

If May fails a fi­nal fit­ness test, Joe Cokanasiga is ex­pected to be handed a re­call, as there are doubts about Jack Now­ell’s abil­ity to start a match, given his in­jury prob­lems since the end of last sea­son.

Henry Slade, who had been re­called for the win over Aus­tralia in Oita last Satur­day after Jones had dropped Ford be­cause of the mid­field threat spear­headed by Samu Kerevi, is now ex­pected to be named among the re­place­ments.

It is the re­sump­tion of the Ford­far­rell com­bi­na­tion, how­ever, that is ex­pected to steal the head­lines when Jones names his squad this morn­ing.

Ford has been one of Eng­land’s lead­ing per­form­ers in this World Cup cam­paign.

He was named man of the match in the pool vic­tory over the United States and his se­lec­tion sug­gests there will be a change in tac­tics for the semi-fi­nal.

The All Blacks mid­field of An­ton Lienert-brown and Jack Good­hue are tech­ni­cally pro­fi­cient but not as phys­i­cally im­pos­ing as Kerevi, and Ford’s re­turn should en­able Eng­land to at­tempt to dom­i­nate ter­ri­tory with a kick­ing game and will in­crease the side’s dis­tri­bu­tion op­tions.

The Ford-far­rell part­ner­ship fea­tured in 28 of the first 30 Tests un­der Jones and was cen­tral in the Grand Slam of 2016 and the Six Na­tions the fol­low­ing year.

His­tory is on Jones’s side, given that the Bri­tish and Ir­ish Li­ons sal­vaged their se­ries against the All Blacks when head coach War­ren

Gat­land opted to start two fly­halves in Jonathan Sex­ton and Far­rell to­gether for the sec­ond Test vic­tory in Wellington.

Jones ap­peared to have moved away from that part­ner­ship fol­low­ing the Test se­ries de­feat by South Africa last year, only for Ford to re­claim his place with his dis­plays in the World Cup warm-up matches.

The Eng­land head coach ad­mit­ted im­me­di­ately after last week­end’s vic­tory that the Ford-far­rell part­ner­ship was still cen­tral to his plan­ning, hav­ing started the for­mer school­mates to­gether for the wins over Tonga and Ar­gentina, and the record 57-15 win over Ire­land in the World Cup warm-up match at Twick­en­ham in Au­gust.

“Well, 25 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,” Jones said in Oita.

“You look back at the great Crusaders side [in the Noughties] 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 to­day, 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 switch will not come as a sur­prise to New Zea­land head coach Steve Hansen. Hansen pre­dicted Ford would re­turn to the start­ing XV in the wake of his side’s record quar­ter-fi­nal vic­tory over Ire­land last Satur­day.

“They could come up with any com­bi­na­tion depend­ing on how they want to play the game,” said Hansen.

“You’ve got to as­sume that 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 that he’s go­ing to do it again. They’ve got a blue­print, as do we, re­gard­less of who you put in the num­bers 1 to 23.

“The key thing then is mak­ing sure your guys have to­tal clar­ity and you add in lit­tle nu­ances be­cause you’re play­ing Eng­land in­stead of Ire­land or Wales or who­ever.”

Re­united: Owen Far­rell and Ge­orge Ford train with Eng­land in Tokyo

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