England shuffles backline for RWC quarterfinal vs Australia
OITA, Japan (AP) — Owen Farrell has moved to flyhalf to replace George Ford and Henry Slade has been reunited in midfield with Manu Tuilangi as England reverted to its Six Nations combination in a bid to thwart Australia’s attacking threat in the Rugby World Cup quarterfinals on Saturday.
Farrell’s shift from 12 to 10 and Tuilanga’s move from outside to inside center to create a spot for Slade was done with attack and defense in mind.
“Australia defend a certain way and we believe those three players can trouble their defense, and defensively too we feel like it’s a pretty strong 10-12-13 combination,” Farrell said. “We know Australia are a high-possession team, they are a high-phase team and that’s how they want to play, so there’s going to be a lot of defending in that area and we think those three guys are well equipped to handle it.”
England coach Eddie Jones also made two changes to his forward pack, selecting Mako Vunipola to return at loosehead in place of Joe Marler and Courtney Lawes to start in the second row at the expense of George Kruis. Ford, Marler and Kruis were all included on the eight-man reserves bench.
Vunipola has recovered from a hamstring strain and will make his first start of the tournament. Billy Vunipola has overcome an ankle injury and will start at No. 8.
Jones has a 6-0 record as England coach against Australia. He knows the Australian systems well, having coached the Wallabies to the World Cup final in 2003 — ending in an extra-time loss to England — and being involved in the same Sydney club as Saturday’s counterpart, Michael Cheika.
“Australia are a clever team. They will have some specific attacking strategies to play against us so we need to have a great situational awareness,” Jones said. “We need to defend with brutality, and when we have the ball we need play on top of them.”
The England XV contains 10 players who started in the 37-18 win over Australia last November.
The winner at Oita on Saturday will play either defending champion New Zealand or Ireland in the semifinals.
England is aiming to make amends for failing to reach the knockout stage when it hosted the tournament in 2015, when losses to Australia and Wales in the pool phase were costly. Two-time champion Australia lost the final to New Zealand.
England topped Pool C with wins over Tonga, the United States and Argentina, but it’s last scheduled game against three-time finalist France was canceled last weekend because of Typhoon Hagibas. Australia placed second in Pool D after a narrow loss to Six Nations champion Wales.
“Once you get to the quarterfinals it’s about having the right mindset,” Jones said. “We know how well we can play, it’s about us playing to our strengths and trying to take away from what Australia want.”
Jonny May, who has scored a try in each of his last two tests against Australia, will start on the left wing and will earn his 50th test cap.
Jones said dropping Ford was part of the “horse for courses situation” and the flyhalf was included on the bench “so he’s going to finish for us instead of starting. Everyone has a role to do.”
“We know about Australia, they are a great tournament side,” Jones said. “I think (Cheika) has done a really good job. They’ve improved their scrum and line-out over the last six to 12 months considerably and that makes them more difficult to beat.”