Rugby World Cup 2019

Rugby: English, All Blacks make tactical switches ahead of World Cup semis

A photo created on Oct 24, 2019 of New Zealand’s George Bridge (left) and England’s Jonny May. England will play against New Zealand in their Japan 2019 Rugby World Cup semi-final match on Oct 26, 2019.
A photo created on Oct 24, 2019 of New Zealand’s George Bridge (left) and England’s Jonny May. England will play against New Zealand in their Japan 2019 Rugby World Cup semi-final match on Oct 26, 2019.PHOTO: AFP

TOKYO • England coach Eddie Jones has reverted to his twin playmaker approach by recalling George Ford at fly-half and moving Owen Farrell to centre for tomorrow's Rugby World Cup semi-final against New Zealand while dropping Henry Slade to the bench.

It was his preferred tactic in the pool stage, when Ford was outstanding. But he was benched for the quarter-final win over Australia, against whom Jones said he had been "spectacular" after coming on during the second half.

Manu Tuilagi moves to outside centre while the pack is the same as against Australia. Jonny May has recovered from a hamstring strain to start on the left wing, with Anthony Watson on the right and Elliot Daly at full-back.

Explaining his fly-half switch, Jones said: "Whenever you play against New Zealand, your work off the ball is going to be massively important. They like to move the ball around, are very good on transition and George's work rate off the ball has been absolutely exceptional."

The Ford-Farrell tandem offers more attacking options, with the likelihood that Ford will give way to Slade in the second half.

For the two-time defending champions All Blacks, Scott Barrett is a surprise starter at blindside flanker, with Ardie Savea shifting to the openside of the scrum.

Sam Cane, who had operated in a twin-openside combination with Savea since the match against Australia in Perth in August, has been dropped to the bench for the clash in Yokohama.

Barrett, who normally plays at lock, spent about 15 minutes of the 46-14 last-eight win over Ireland last Saturday playing in the No. 6 jersey, in what coach Steve Hansen said had been a tactical decision.

A year ago, he came on against England early in the second half at Twickenham to give the All Blacks extra options at the line-out, where they subsequently caused all sorts of disruption on the hosts' throws.

"It had a wee bit to do with it," Hansen said. "Not significant. A wee bit."

The 25-year-old's inclusion in an otherwise-unchanged starting side from the Ireland game adds an extra dimension to the All Blacks line-out and some additional size in the collision area.

Said Hansen: "It's strategic, not on form, because Sam has been playing lovely rugby."

Ahead of Sunday's second semi-final, South Africa suffered a big blow as winger Cheslin Kolbe, one of the tournament's outstanding players, was ruled out with an ankle injury. His replacement is Sbu Nkosi, the only change to the team that beat Japan last week.

Wales also have their injury problem, with full-back Liam Williams ruled out. Number 8 Josh Navidi's tournament is already over with a hamstring injury.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 25, 2019, with the headline 'English, Kiwis make tactical switches'. Print Edition | Subscribe