Rugby World Cup 2015

England drop a big surprise

England fly-halves George Ford (left) and Owen Farrell during training. The former did not impress against Fiji and was replaced in the 62nd minute by the latter, who performed better and will start against Wales.
England fly-halves George Ford (left) and Owen Farrell during training. The former did not impress against Fiji and was replaced in the 62nd minute by the latter, who performed better and will start against Wales.PHOTO: ACTION IMAGES

Coach Lancaster omits Ford, picks Farrell and Burgess in hopes of overwhelming Wales

LONDON • Stuart Lancaster has taken the biggest selection gamble of his career by dropping George Ford for England's crucial Rugby World Cup game against Wales and selecting Owen Farrell and Sam Burgess to start at Twickenham.

Ford, who has been England's first-choice fly-half since last autumn, has been omitted just one game into the tournament and replaced by Farrell for the Pool A clash on Saturday.

The decision to drop Ford represents a dramatic late change of course from England, who have spent the past year working on an attacking style based around the Bath fly-half's creativity.

Ford was a key figure in England's 21-16 victory over Wales in the Six Nations Championship in February. But he had a poor game away to France during the warm-up internationals and did not set the back division alight in the 35-11 opening victory against Fiji.

GOOD CHOICE

He is a big-game player. We can expect a big performance from him.

ANDY FARRELL, who tips Brad Barritt to come good against Six Nations rivals Wales despite a mediocre outing against Fiji in England's Pool A opener

Farrell did well when he came on against the Pacific islanders. And Lancaster's decision to select the Saracens player at fly-half for the first time in a competitive international since the defeat by South Africa last November suggests that England will look to kick into the space behind Wales' flat defensive line and send in the heavy-duty runners.

Lancaster, who has used a remarkable 13 different midfield combinations since taking charge in 2012, has made more than just a one-man substitution.

Burgess will move to inside-centre in place of Jonathan Joseph, who has been ruled out because of a chest injury.

Brad Barritt will switch from inside-centre to outside.

With the craft of the ball players Ford and Joseph gone, England will be bigger but less subtle.

England are hopeful that Joseph's injury, which he suffered in last Friday's victory over Fiji, will keep him out of action for only one game.

But there were indications that it could sideline him for the rest of the group stage.

Burgess has raw power and physicality but a lack of rugby union experience and just one season at Bath and 112 minutes of Test rugby.

His case highlights the tendency to view rugby league converts as that of an impact substitute at the showpiece tournament.

However, Andy Farrell, the England assistant coach and Owen's father, believes he could provide England with a dynamic midfield presence when he lines up opposite Jamie Roberts, a Lion with 73 caps to his name.

"I wouldn't just pigeon-hole Burgess as an impact player, just like New Zealand wouldn't pigeonhole Sonny Bill (Williams), would they?" he said.

"The start of the game is pretty important as well; how you get off and how you make the other team feel.

"He's quite comfortable starting or coming off the bench and doing what's best for the team."

Barritt has played outside-centre for England before, in the 2012 and 2013 Six Nations, and last year against Samoa. He was disappointing against Fiji but Andy Farrell backed him to respond against Wales. "He is a big-game player," he said.

THE TIMES, LONDON, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 24, 2015, with the headline 'ENGLAND DROP A BIG SURPRISE'. Print Edition | Subscribe