Shock England call not without logic

Date published: September 23 2015

Stuart Lancaster's expected bold call to axe George Ford and start Owen Farrell will raise eyebrows, but isn't without some logic.

England were far too lateral against Fiji as they struggled to penetrate a drift defence that rarely had to straighten up until Lancaster unloaded his bench.

Ford isn't entirely to blame given England struggled to produce clean ball at the breakdown, and looking back on how he has played for England since his first Test start last November it's a harsh move for him to lose his place, especially given he was Man of the Match in the win over Wales in Cardiff.

But, Farrell has come back strongly since he was rightly dropped last year, returning from the injury that forced him to miss the Six Nations a better player, including a magnificent performance in Saracens' Premiership final win over Ford's Bath. His physciality and combination with club team-mate Brad Barritt offers a safety net.

The wider issue is in midfield. Selecting both Sam Burgess and Henry Slade always meant that if Jonathan Joseph were to pick up an injury then a major hole would open up at outside centre with no obvious replacement.

With him in the side, England's revamped attack has produced excellent tries and made the side aesthetically easy on the eye.

To therefore go from the playmaking combination of Ford and Joseph into a reinforced, safety-first approach initially looks like a regression, but it isn't without some logic.

Burgess might lack union experience but in terms of physicality and leadership there are few to rival him in England's squad. 

Fiji's power last Friday appears to have almost scared the England coaches into action.

A 10-12-13 combination of Farrell, Burgess and Barritt is unquestionably direct and strong. Joseph's looped runs aren't going to replicated.

That route-one approach worked for England at the end of their bonus-point win at Twickenham, and more importantly makes them more physically solid against the predictable crash-and-bash attack that Wales will roll out this weekend.

Henry Slade is the more natural fit at 13, the closest England have to a direct replacement bar the excluded Elliot Daly. 

For all his promise, including him to start would have been an even bigger gamble than Burgess, but without him England look a little short on creativity. 

Whether that will hurt them remains to be seen, but there are no guesses anymore about how England will approach Saturday night. It might not be pretty, but tight World Cup battles often aren't.

by Ben Coles