By Mitch Phillips
OITA, Japan (Reuters) – Eddie Jones said that George Ford was disappointed to miss out on a starting berth for Saturday’s World Cup quarter-final against Australia but again insisted that a place among the “finishers” is just as important in the modern game.
The flyhalf has been arguably England’s best player in the pool phase but was shifted to the bench to allow Jones to pump up his midfield with the Manu Tuilagi-Henry Slade combination, switching Owen Farrell to flyhalf.
“I spoke to George this morning and obviously he’s disappointed but he knows his role in the team,” said Jones, who took to listing his replacements as “finishers” two years ago.
“He’s got an important role in the team and that’s how we’ve spoken all along – we look at it as a squad of 23, everyone has a role to do.
“It’s always a horses for courses situation in terms of selection.”
It was a case of deja vu for Ford, who four years ago was dropped for the key World Cup pool defeat by Wales as coach Stuart Lancaster made the controversial decision to call up rugby league convert Sam Burgess and started Owen Farrell at 10.
Lancaster’s thinking – and he will argue that he was right as England led for so long – was that Burgess would cancel out Wales’s chief attacking threat in the form of Jamie Roberts running crash ball.
This time it is Samu Kerevi bringing the heavyweight danger and Jones has acted to slam the door.
“Defensively we feel like it’s a pretty strong 10-12-13 combination but we also feel these three players can trouble their defence,” Jones told a lively news conference on Thursday.
“Kerevi is a damaging ball carrier and we know Australia are a high possession team, they are a high phase team, 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.”
Slade must have thought his chance had slipped when the France game, in which he was due to start, was cancelled, and said he was delighted that Jones had given him a vote of confidence after he battled back from a knee injury.
“It’s really pleasing, hopefully I can let out the frustration and get back into things really well,” said Slade, who has played only 40 minutes of Test rugby since the Six Nations.
While Kerevi brings an obvious threat, it seems likely that Slade will go head to head with 19-year-old Jordan Petaia, who has only two caps to his name, both on the wing.
“He is a very good player, good footwork and is strong in the outside channels so we know he will definitely be a threat and we have got to stop,” Slade said.
Asked what he thought Jones meant when he referred to the need for “brutal defence”, he said: “It’s about the guys around the breakdown and about being brutal and also in control and that maybe where my job comes into it as an outside back making good decisions. You cannot be brutal and lose your head, it’s about being physical and brutal and making those good decisions.”
(Reporting by Mitch Phillips, editing by Darren Schuettler)