CHRIS FOY: Eddie Jones has made a powerful statement by naming an unchanged XV for the Rugby World Cup final with George Ford retained. England will look to dictate rather than contain the Springboks
- England face South Africa in the Rugby World Cup final on Saturday
- Head coach Eddie Jones has named an unchanged XV for the match
- England dismantled pre-tournament favourites the All Blacks last weekend
- George Ford is retained at fly-half having played a key role in that win
An unchanged team is not just a sign of precious stability and physical resilience at this stage of a World Cup, it is a statement of conviction.
England will field the same starting XV in the World Cup final against South Africa as they did in the semi-final against New Zealand last week. Given what happened in that epic, historic match, it makes sense to retain that line-up en masse. But it is also a means of being proactive, rather than reactive. The opposition have changed, but Eddie Jones believes his players can adjust accordingly and deliver the same outcome, to achieve ultimate glory in the Far East.
There had been speculation at the start of this week that the national coach may revert back to having captain Owen Farrell at No 10, with George Ford amongst the replacements again, as he had been for the quarter-final against Australia. Jones had hinted that he might reconsider that option, after his side had demolished the All Blacks last weekend.
Eddie Jones has kept faith in fly-half George Ford (right) alongside Owen Farrell (left)
But it would have sent out the wrong signal. Ford has played superbly well throughout this World Cup campaign. He has been one of England’s stand-out performers. He has orchestrated the attack impressively, he has been canny and accurate with his kicking and, crucially, he has made his tackles. While they may not be dominant hits, he doesn’t miss. He is not a weak link in the defensive line.
If Jones had chosen to reshuffle his back line, it would have suggested that he was worried about the threat posed by the Springboks’ powerful inside centre Damian de Allende, as well as all their other massive ball-carriers. A horses-for-courses selection in this case would have seemed to be a means of containing, rather than dictating.
Instead, England are unchanged. It is a powerful statement. It is Jones saying he is happy with his team, he has faith in his team and he knows they can take on all-comers. It is his way of saying that this is a team for all conditions and all oppositions; a team capable of playing tight and tough or fast and loose. In short, it is a team worthy of becoming world champions.
All week, there has been talk of how physical and brutal the Boks are, but New Zealand have that in their repertoire too and England utterly eclipsed them in the collision areas last Saturday. Jones is sure that the same players can do the same job of delivering an imposing and high-intensity performance. He will have watched his young flankers, Tom Curry and Sam Underhill, flatten big Kiwis one after the other and know that they will relish doing the same to these South Africans.
Jones has picked a team to try and dictate rather than contain the Springboks
There had been speculation that George Kruis might come in to the second row, but Courtney Lawes has retained his starting place alongside Maro Itoje. Once again, that is a demonstration of selection faith, in Itoje’s ability to run the lineout and in Lawes’ ability to stand up to the massive Bok locks.
An unchanged team for the final also means that medical concerns have eased. Kyle Sinckler, Jonny May and Farrell had all been hampered by minor knocks during the semi-final, but they have all been cleared to start. England have avoided significant injury problems during this tournament and that is a triumph for their back-room staff – and an indication that training loads have been sensibly managed.
Ben Spencer has been summoned from Saracens and goes straight into the match-day 23 as the back-up scrum-half, which is not an ideal scenario. It would have been better if he had been in Japan with the squad all along. In hindsight, England probably came with one too many back-three players and having another scrum-half would have made sense. But that is nit-picking. Spencer is familiar with the set-up. He will slot in well and can be expected to cope with the occasion.