George Ford dropped as Owen Farrell starts for England
Rugby World Cup: Eddie Jones has sprung a surprise for Australia quarter-final
England’s Owen Farrell during a training session ahead of the Rugby World Cup quarter-final against Australia. Photo: David Rogers/Getty Images
Kick-off: 8.15am Irish time, Saturday. Venue: Oita Stadium. How to follow: The Irish Times liveblog will begin at 7.30am. On TV: Live on Eir Sport and ITV.
Eddie Jones has sprung a huge surprise by dropping George Ford and naming Owen Farrell at outhalf for England’s World Cup quarter-final against Australia on Saturday. Ford has been among England’s best performers at the World Cup so far but Jones has opted to restore his captain to the No 10 jersey.
Henry Slade comes in at outside centre with Manu Tuilagi moving to No 12 while Mako Vunipola comes in at loosehead prop for his first start since May following a hamstring injury. Courtney Lawes is preferred to George Kruis in the second row while Billy Vunipola also makes his 13th consecutive start for England having recovered from his ankle injury.
Jones’s decision to change his outhalf comes as a major shock after he seemed to have settled again on the Ford-Farrell axis.
Tuilagi has also shone outside them in the three matches they have started together. Slade has been struggling with a knee problem however, but now back to full fitness Jones has reverted the midfield trio he favoured during the Six Nations. Farrell, Tuilagi and Slade have not lined up together since England’s capitulation to Scotland at the end of the Six Nations, however. Furthermore, Farrell has only started for England at outhalf once since then – the warm-up victory over Italy in Newcastle.
It is not the first time Ford has been relegated to the bench for a key World Cup clash – four years ago Stuart Lancaster dropped him in favour of Farrell for the decisive defeat by Wales. But his form at the tournament – he was named man of the match against the USA – makes Jones’s decision to drop him all the more surprising. Not least when Farrell has been scratching around for form.
Jones has also seen fit to select Mako Vunipola from the off despite the fact he has played little more than half an hour of rugby since May. He had been set to start the cancelled match against France last weekend with Joe Marler nursing a back injury. As the better scrummager Marler had been expected to start but Jones has opted to bring Vunipola straight into the fold.
“Once you get to the quarter-finals it’s about having the right mindset,” said Jones. “We know how well we can play, it’s about us playing to our strengths and trying to take away from what Australia want. Australia are a clever team, they will have some specific attacking strategies to play against us so we need to have a great situational awareness. We need to defend with brutality and when we have the ball we need play on top of them.”
The back three is unchanged from that which started England last match against Argentina while Ben Youngs continues at scrum-half. Jamie George and Kyle Sinckler join Mako Vunipola in the front row while Maro Itoje, Tom Curry and Sam Underhill complete the pack. On the bench Lewis Ludlam is preferred to Mark Wilson as back-row cover and with Jack Nowell out injured with a hamstring injury, Jonathan Joseph comes on to the bench.
Meanwhile, Teenager Jordan Petaia will start at outside centre for Australia. The 19-year-old is Australia’s youngest Test centre since Jason Little 30 years ago. He also becomes the first player born this century to feature in a Rugby World Cup knockout game.
He moves from wing to midfield, with Reece Hodge returning after serving a three-match suspension.
Hodge was banned following his citing for a high tackle on Fiji’s Peceli Yato in the Wallabies’ opening World Cup fixture last month.
Other changes see half-backs Christian Lealifano and Will Genia both start, plus skipper Michael Hooper, who wins his 99th cap, and prop Allan Alaalatoa.
Full-back Kurtley Beale, meanwhile, starts after completing graduated return-to-play protocols.
Saturday’s encounter in Oita is the countries’ seventh World Cup meeting, with the current head-to-head standing at 3-3.
But Australia have lost their last six games against England since beating them at Twickenham during the 2015 World Cup.
England: E Daly (Saracens); A Watson (Bath Rugby), H Slade (Exeter Chiefs), M Tuilagi (Leicester Tigers), J May (Leicester Tigers); O Farrell (Saracens, capt), B Youngs (Leicester Tigers); M Vunipola (Saracens), J George (Saracens), K Sinckler (Harlequins); M Itoje (Saracens), C Lawes (Northampton Saints); T Curry (Sale Sharks), S Underhill (Bath Rugby), B Vunipola (Saracens).
Replacements: L Cowan-Dickie (Exeter Chiefs), J Marler (Harlequins), D Cole (Leicester Tigers), G Kruis (Saracens), L Ludlam (Northampton Saints), W Heinz (Gloucester Rugby), G Ford (Leicester Tigers), J Joseph (Bath Rugby).
Australia: K Beale; R Hodge, J Petaia, S Kerevi, M Koroibete; C Lealifano, W Genia; S Sio, T Latu, A Alaalatoa; I Rodda, R Arnold; D Pocock, M Hooper (capt), I Naisarani.
Replacements: J Uelese, J Slipper, T Tupou, A Coleman, L Salakaia-Loto, N White, M Toomua, J O’Connor.