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Things change and so should selection


EVEN if Owen Farrell was available to face Japan tonight, I’d still have started George Ford.

Farrell is a favourite of coach Steve Borthwick and as captain he is the squad’s go-to player. I’m a huge fan of Farrell and have constantly argued for him to start at No 10, but the most important aspect you have to master when coaching at international level is selection. A key part of that is accepting things can change and adapting accordingly.

You can have all the plans you like, but sometimes they go out the window. That is what happened when Farrell was sent off against Wales last month and then banned for two matches. Farrell will be back available to face Chile in round three at the World Cup.

But in his absence, Ford has made a huge statement. He was fantastic against Argentina, guiding England to victory almost on his own. He kicked all 27 points, including three drop goals.

Ford’s game management after England went down to 14 men following Tom Curry’s sending off was outstanding. It was a brilliant display, everything you want from your playmaker. It’s no surprise he starts again against Japan in Nice today.

England must take this World Cup one game at a time and not get ahead of themselves. It’s critical they do this. Japan is the only game that matters right now.

That said, I’m sure the thought would have crossed Borthwick’s mind as to what he will do when Farrell’s suspension is over. I would imagine Farrell will play against Chile. I say that because he has been short of rugby and Borthwick will want to get some minutes into him, but that doesn’t mean Farrell has to start those matches. I reiterate, things can change.

At the start of the 2003 World Cup, my first-choice centre pairing was Mike Tindall and Will Greenwood. But for the semi-final with France, I started Mike Catt alongside Greenwood with Tindall on the bench. Bad conditions were forecast for that game and I knew Catt’s kicking game would be crucial.

Catt had also impressed off the bench, turning what was a difficult quarter-final with Wales England’s way. He’d also gone well against Samoa in a comeback victory. As a result, I selected Catt ahead of Tindall against France.

Borthwick must not be afraid to make equally significant decisions. If Ford has another good game against Japan and Borthwick feels he is playing better than Farrell, then the captain must miss out. I have been clear in my belief Farrell is not a 12, so he must not be played there with Ford at 10. That would be a big cop out.

I do feel a bit sorry for Marcus Smith. England are fortunate to have three brilliant fly-halves. Ford, Farrell and Smith are all different and it’s Borthwick’s job to pick the right man for the job. Whoever plays, there’s only one thing that matters at a World Cup — winning the next game.

Individual performances are great, but it’s not ice-skating. It’s knock-out rugby and coming out on the right side of the scoreboard as a team is everything. Ford helped England do that in round one against the odds, so he has credit in the bank and will hope to stay in the white 10 shirt.

After Argentina, Japan is the next step for this England team to show what they can do. I was delighted to see Ford bring back the drop goal plan against the Pumas. It’s a tactic that is impossible to defend against if executed well and it keeps the scoreboard ticking over.

What I’d like to see against Japan is England show something new in attack. I think they can get a lot more out of Freddie Steward. One thing I’d like to see is Ford try to find the England fullback with cross-kicks. Steward is brilliant in the air and a fantastic defensive 15, but his skills can be used better going forward.

In the 2003 World Cup final, Australia scored their only try by cross-kicking to Lote Tuqiri who beat Jason Robinson in the air. In that situation, the attacking player has the advantage. These sorts of mismatches are an area where Steward would excel. If England kick to Steward in a similar way they can create a mismatch because no one should beat the Leicester man in a jump for the ball.

Putting Steward out wide from set-pieces in the opposition 22 and having Jonny May on the other side of the pitch will keep the opposition guessing and will also create more room for the centres.

England have become too predictable in attack, but they should have too much for Japan regardless. The Brave Blossoms aren’t the same side that reached the quarter-finals of the last World Cup when they impressed as hosts.

England have confidence now with Ford in charge and I can see nothing but a comfortable England win and another positive step forward into the unknown for this team.

Individual performances are great, but it’s not ice-skating

Rugby World Cup




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