England have recalled George Ford at fly-half for their World Cup semi-final against New Zealand as they looked to widen their attacking options against the world champions.
Ford came off the bench during England’s 40-16 quarter-final win over Australia. But he is now in the starting XV for Saturday’s match against the reigning champs in Yokohama.
England captain Owen Farrell, who started at fly-half against the Wallabies, moves to inside center with Manu Tuilagi alongside him in midfield.
Henry Slade drops down to the bench for the most important match of veteran Australian coach Eddie Jones’s four-year reign, pitting the world’s number two side against top-ranked New Zealand.
In-form wing Jonny May, who scored two tries against Australia, has been passed fit after leaving the field shortly before the end of the Wallabies’ match with a hamstring problem.
Ford has been one of England’s leading players at Japan 2019 and was named man of the match in a pool win against the United States.
But concerns about the threat posed by Australia powerhouse midfielder Samu Kerevi saw him benched for the quarter-final.
Ford’s inclusion is set to bolster England’s kicking and distribution options, with All Blacks centers Anton Lienert-Brown and Jack Goodhue not posing the same physical threat as Kerevi.
“We just feel it’s the right combination this week,” Jones told the media of his decision to revert to a dual playmaker system featuring childhood friends Ford and Farrell.
“Whenever you play against New Zealand your work off the ball is going to be massively important. They like to move the ball around, they are very good on transition and George’s work-rate off the ball has been absolutely exceptional,” he added.
The only other change to England’s match-day 23 sees back-row Mark Wilson replace Lewis Ludlam on the bench.
Meanwhile, Saracens number eight Billy Vunipola will win his 50th cap in a back-row featuring “kamikaze kids” Sam Underhill and Tom Curry.
England have won just seven of their 41 Tests against New Zealand, who hammered Ireland 46-14 in the last eight, and they have lost all three of their previous World Cup encounters against the All Blacks.
But several members of the current side featured the last time England beat the Kiwis in a 38-21 victory at Twickenham seven years ago and were also involved in the 2017 British and Irish Lions squad that drew a Test series in New Zealand.
“I think traditionally when you play against New Zealand the pace and intensity of the game gets to you,” Jones, Australia’s coach when they beat the All Blacks in the semi-finals of the 2003 World Cup, where the Wallabies lost to England in the final, said.
“I think if you have experienced that before you understand what you have got to prepare yourself for and most of our squad have been involved in those games so we’ve got great experience. They know what New Zealand’s going to bring to the game,” he added.
England have also known they were in line for a semi-final against New Zealand ever since the World Cup pool draw took place in May 2017.
“We are ready for the game, we’ve had two-and-a-half years to prepare for this game so we are ready to go,” Jones insisted.
“It’s going to be a great contest, isn’t it? Two heavyweights, one dressed in black, one dressed in white. You couldn’t think of a better scenario,” he said.
New Zealand, who have not lost a World Cup match since their 2007 quarter-final defeat by France, named their side earlier Thursday.
The All Blacks made just one change for a game coach Steve Hansen said could be one “for the ages.”
Scott Barrett was named at blindside flanker, replacing Sam Cane who moves to the bench.