England coach Eddie Jones insisted fly-half George Ford has a “significant role to play” on Thursday after he dropped him to the bench for Saturday’s World Cup quarter-final against Australia.
Ford has been one of England’s leading players in Japan, but Jones moved captain Owen Farrell from inside center to fly-half, with Henry Slade given his first start of the tournament alongside Manu Tuilagi in midfield.
Jones, however, insisted Ford would still play a major part in Saturday’s crunch clash between the old rivals in Oita.
“George is in the 23, we have a starting team and a finishing team,” he told reporters at England’s hotel in Beppu on Thursday. “I spoke to him this morning and he’s obviously disappointed, but everyone has a role in the team.
“He has got a significant role to play.”
Farrell, who has plenty of Test experience at stand-off, said: “I’ve played fly-half plenty of times before, it’s more about how I can fit in the team and get us in the place where we can perform well at the weekend.”
Jones, the Wallabies’ coach when they lost the 2003 World Cup final to England in Sydney, insisted: “It’s always a horses for courses situation, we are always looking to pick the right team for the right game.”
Slade, hampered by a knee injury, has played only 40 minutes of rugby since the end of the English domestic season in June. Jones made three personnel changes and two positional switches as England look to secure a semi-final against either reigning champions New Zealand or Ireland.
Mako Vunipola returns at loosehead prop following a hamstring injury sustained during a win over Argentina in what became England’s final group match, after their Pool C finale against France was canceled because of Typhoon Hagibis.
Meanwhile, Courtney Lawes returns to the second row alongside Maro Itoje. Prop Joe Marler and lock George Kruis are on the bench.
“Mako has been training exceptionally well. His ability to be influential warrants his selection,” Jones said.
The two positional changes are Farrell’s shift and Tuilagi’s move from outside to inside center.
“Australia defend a certain way and we believe those players can trouble their defense, defensively we feel that 10-12-13 (fly-half, inside center, outside center) combination is a strong combination,” said Jones.
“We believe those three guys are well-equipped to handle it,” he added.
Australia center Samu Kerevi has been one of the star players for a Wallabies side coached by Michael Cheika, a former team-mate of Jones’ at Sydney club Randwick.
“Samu Kerevi is a good ball-carrier, but we’ve got the capability to defend against him,” said Jones. “Australia are a good tournament team, they are well coached by Michael and we will have to play well to beat them.”
Meanwhile, Billy Vunipola has recovered from the ankle injury he suffered against the Pumas almost a fortnight ago, with the powerful number eight proving his fitness in training on Wednesday.
In the backs, wing Jonny May – averaging a try every two games – wins his 50th cap.
England have won all six of their Tests against Australia since Jones took over as coach after the 2015 World Cup, where the Wallabies condemned hosts England to a first-round exit with a 33-13 victory at Twickenham.
But former Japan coach Jones played down that record, saying: “The great thing about a World Cup is each game is a match by itself. What you’ve done in the past doesn’t affect what you do on Saturday.”
Cheika, who oversaw that 2015 win over England, was due to name his side later Thursday.
Elliot Daly; Anthony Watson, Henry Slade, Manu Tuilagi, Jonny May; Owen Farrell (capt), Ben Youngs; Billy Vunipola, Sam Underhill, Tom Curry; Courtney Lawes, Maro Itoje; Kyle Sinckler, Jamie George, Mako Vunipola
Replacements: Luke Cowan-Dickie, Joe Marler, Dan Cole, George Kruis, Lewis Ludlam, Willi Heinz, George Ford, Jonathan Joseph