OITA (Japan): England coach Eddie Jones sprung a big surprise yesterday by naming Owen Farrell (pic) to start at flyhalf in the World Cup quarter-final against Australia, benching George Ford and bringing in Henry Slade to join Manu Tuilagi in midfield.

Billy Vunipola has recovered from a twisted ankle and will start on Saturday, as will his brother Mako in the front row. Courtney Lawes replaces George Kruis in the second row alongside Maro Itoje while Jamie Joseph replaces the injured Jack Nowell on the bench.

Jones has long bounced Farrell between flyhalf and centre but appeared to have settled on playing him at 12 at the World Cup in Japan, where Ford has been one of England’s most impressive players operating at flyhalf. However, by dropping Ford to the bench and giving Slade his first start of the tournament Jones appears to be seeking to combat Australia’s midfield power, particularly the threat of the dynamic Samu Kerevi.

“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.”

Jones used the Ford/Farrell partnership for most of his first two years in charge but then began experimenting with the captain at 10, where he played through this year’s Six Nations. The coach has consistently said he would be happy to shuffle that combination depending on the opposition and, having returned to Farrell at 12 in Japan, has shifted him back to 10 to deliver a tough-tackling backline barrier.

Part of his thinking has been influenced by the return to fitness of Tuilagi, whose powerful and evasive running he likes to utilise at 12, shifting him
over from outside centre. – Reuters