Eddie Jones has named a virtually first choice side to face Ireland, from those in his squad who are fully fit and firing, but starting George Ford and Owen Farrell together again feels like a backward step.
The bottom line is I don’t think Farrell is suited to playing 12, especially as captain. He should be the fulcrum of the team and steering the ship from fly half rather than one step further away from the action.
He’s the type of character that you want to run everything and dominate a game and he can’t do that from inside centre, where there is a lot more hitting the ball up and making tackles. Farrell loves that but doing it does mean he often isn’t as influential.
They won the Grand Slam starting every game together in 2016 and then won the Six Nations again the following year so it’s clearly a combination that’s had success in the past but I don’t think it’s right for England now.
There’s every chance that he’ll produce an excellent attacking display today if he’s given some good front-foot ball but I think the past few years has told us that Farrell is England’s first choice fly half.
I hope the only reason they’re going back to starting the two of them together is because Henry Slade is still injured and Jonathan Joseph and Piers Francis have started both of the opening two warm-up games against Wales.
Eddie has said that he’s going to be trying things out this month in preparation for the World Cup but we’ve seen how this partnership works for almost four years between the end of 2014 and the South Africa tour last summer.
I’ve no doubt Farrell and Ford will be on the field in tandem at some point in Japan so it’s another chance for him to see how they go but I just hope it’s more of a plan for towards the end of games rather than something he’s going to revert to from the start.
This same issue has reared its head a few times in the past couple of years with Maro Itoje shunted to blindside flanker as well. It might be ok as a one-off out of necessity but as a general rule you have to pick your star men in their best positions.
Farrell revels in the responsibility of controlling games from fly half, leading the team from there and being able to be more dominant as a result. That’s where he plays his best rugby and by pushing him out to 12 I don’t think we’ll see the best of him.
Perhaps today’s selection does show that the squad is a bit light in midfield, with Ben Te’o having been omitted, but that is with Slade missing and Jack Nowell is also out and he’s been utilised at 13 in the past as well.
England’s attack was pretty blunt in Cardiff last week so there is a chance that this is his solution to that but I just can’t see that it’s a World Cup winning formula.
It might be a more minor point as well but in some ways it’s also a bit of a risk to start them both together in the same team against a hugely physical and motivated Ireland side when they’re the only two fly halves named in the 31-man squad. A certain Danny Cipriani might be watching closely from afar, albeit obviously not for one second wishing injury on another player.
Away from the 10/12 channel, it’s exciting to see Tom Curry and Sam Underhill, or ‘the Kamikaze Kids’ as Eddie Jones has labelled them, starting alongside one another for the first time after injury meant it didn’t happen against Wales a couple of weeks ago.
He’s got to pick two from Curry, Underhill and Mark Wilson as his first choice flankers and we might see that the work rate and energy of these two youngsters in defence and at the breakdown allows Billy Vunipola to be even more effective than he is already.
All in all, we’ve seen a couple of performances that have lacked a bit of intensity from an understrength England side and an underwhelming performance from a second-string Ireland so far in August but both have gone full noise in this one so we should be in for a much better spectacle.
Today is a warm-up game and Eddie has plans for each one that he isn’t divulging to all of us but reverting to Ford and Farrell from the start in Japan can’t be a Plan A. If England have got any chance of winning the World Cup, it’s imperative Farrell starts at 10.
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