Eddie Jones has been bold with his selection again but it’s a mistake to revert to the George Ford/Owen Farrell axis against the All Blacks on Saturday.
This is the biggest moment of all of these England players’ careers but for Ford, it feels particularly big as it’s also an opportunity to prove the doubters wrong and show that he can control a game when England aren’t on the front foot the whole time.
Trying to work out what Jones is thinking is impossible but the 10/12/13 combination he picked for last weekend’s quarter-final win over Australia is England’s best and has proven to be so over the course of the past year or so.
Ford has been brought in because of the accuracy of his kicking and England are clearly going to try and turn New Zealand and get in behind them using the boot. Farrell does a good job at inside centre but he should be playing in his best position of fly-half. By moving him out one, he can’t have the influence that he does when he’s in the No10 jersey.
He was impeccable last weekend and you saw the difference, not only in his own performance compared to when he has been at 12 but also between a team with a controlling fly-half that understands how to put pressure on the opposition and a team that didn’t have a clue about game management.
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There is no doubt Ford is brilliant on the front foot and has the capacity to produce magic in attack but England didn’t miss him last week and his selection now detracts from Farrell’s performance and the control that he can offer.
People who haven’t played in those positions just think it’s easy to shift along one but it is a massive difference, especially in terms of a player’s psyche. I can tell you that from experience.
I was moved to 12 a couple of times by Pat Howard at Leicester because he thought I had the physical attributes for it, but it’s a completely different position and as a controlling fly-half your natural instinct is to try to boss everything and get involved too much.
Last time England played New Zealand in a World Cup semi-final it was carnage as the Jonah Lomu-inspired All Blacks ran amok in Cape Town https://t.co/Un6rIm34J7
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) October 25, 2019
It can become a frustration. Farrell has plenty of experience playing at No12, of course, but I feel he still gets frustrated when he plays there because he isn’t in control as much as he would like to be.
Ford has been one of the standout players when he’s started for England at this World Cup but I can’t think of too many massive knockout games for club or country where he has dominated and led his team to victory, so this is a massive chance for him to show he can do that.
People talk about his tackle success rate being excellent as well in terms of his defence but that doesn’t tell the full story because if you are losing five metres in every one of those soak tackles, you’re losing momentum. I was no stranger to a soak up tackle myself, so I’m not just bagging Ford. But Farrell does give you more in that area.
Courtney Lawes has his say on Brodie Retallick's infamous 2014 gaffe ahead of the England versus All Blacks World Cup showdown https://t.co/Yv721ljUFH
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) October 25, 2019
Ford’s job will obviously be made easier if England get more than their fair share of front foot ball and that is where the game is likely to be won and lost. New Zealand thrive off quick ball and you have to stop them getting over the gainline to stand a chance of beating them.
It’s a team effort but Tom Curry and Sam Underhill have obviously a huge job on their hands in that respect and it’s fascinating to see Steve Hansen picking Scott Barrett ahead of Sam Cane opposite them.
New Zealand are clearly targeting the lineout, perhaps because of their experience at Twickenham last November, and they will put pods up and contest on England’s ball so it will be a big test of Maro Itoje’s mettle with Barrett, Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock in his face.
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Most people thought George Kruis would be brought back to sure up the lineout but Courtney Lawes (or Michael as Retallick likes to call him!) has offered so much around the field and England will need every bit of that physicality. England can’t afford to get too far behind against the All Blacks as they are the masters at frontrunning. They have got to be absolute relentless for 80 minutes and have the belief that they can do it as well.
I’d like to pick out weaknesses in this New Zealand side but they are few and far between. They have only just settled on their midfield combination of Richie Mo’unga, Anton Lienert-Brown and Jack Goodhue, so I’d be looking to target them but I’m clutching at straws.
It’s going to take a Herculean effort and England will have to be smart, pick and choose which breakdowns to compete at and put in some man-and-ball shots to take time and space away from the All Blacks. The World Cup winner is coming from this semi-final and my heart says it’s England – of course it does – but the head is taking over and saying New Zealand by ten.
WATCH: Jim Hamilton breaks down the first of two giant World Cup semi-finals this weekend, England versus New Zealand in Yokohama
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