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Ford likely to see England action early vs Ireland

November 19, 2020 GMT
England's Elliot Daly dives in to score a try, during the Autumn Nations Cup rugby uinion match between England and Georgia, at Twickenham, south west London, Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020. (David Davies/PA via AP)
England's Elliot Daly dives in to score a try, during the Autumn Nations Cup rugby uinion match between England and Georgia, at Twickenham, south west London, Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020. (David Davies/PA via AP)

LONDON (AP) — As betting is widespread in Britain, a good wager would be how soon George Ford runs on at Twickenham.

Sooner rather than later would offer better odds.

Ford is only in the reserves on Saturday for England against Ireland in the Autumn Nation Cup second round. But it’s a measure of his importance and the quality of Ireland’s challenge that coach Eddie Jones summoned him after two training runs.

Ford was declared fully fit only this week, following a longstanding Achilles tendon injury he aggravated before the canceled Barbarians game a month ago.

“We didn’t think he was quite ready to start,” Jones says. “He’s only done two sessions with us so we felt he needed more time, but certainly off the bench he’ll be very handy.

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“He’s played 69 tests and for him to come on in the last part of the game and add his tactical nous, his tactical kicking, his goalkicking if needed, and his distribution skills will be very handy for us.”

England has missed his visionary service. The backline was workmanlike in beating Italy 34-5 to win the Six Nations, and floundered while beating Georgia 40-0 to start the Nations Cup last weekend. Captain and flyhalf Owen Farrell has struggled to get the backline operating, prompting attack coach Simon Amor to say a lot of points have been squandered.

Ford established himself at flyhalf last year at the Rugby World Cup in Japan, where he was often England’s best player. His partnership with Farrell at inside center restored the dual playmaker threat after more than a year in limbo, and they carried England to the final and then to a Six Nations Triple Crown.

When Ford gets into the action on Saturday, Farrell will move out one spot, and Henry Slade or Ollie Lawrence will be replaced.

England has won the last two Six Nations clashes with Ireland, and both were intense. Ford was in the thick of it nine months ago when they prevailed 24-12 at Twickenham, pouncing on two uncharacteristic errors by Jonathan Sexton and Jacob Stockdale who failed to corral the ball on their tryline and conceded tries, one to Ford.

“The thing when you’re playing against Ireland is you’re going to be challenged,” Ford says. “You need to be right on it both from a mental point of view and a physical one, too.

“You’ve got to have a bit of fear in you that if you’re not quite there, Ireland will make you pay.”

The winner is likely to play for the Autumn Nations Cup title in two weeks.

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In that regard, Jones says he’s fielding his strongest side. He dropped Jack Willis, who scored a try on debut against Georgia, to restore his first-choice loose forwards trio of Tom Curry, Sam Underhill and Billy Vunipola to counter the threat of Ireland’s CJ Stander, Peter O’Mahony and Caelan Doris.

“The arm wrestle will come,” Stander warns. ”You can only be physical if you know what you are doing. We know what we are going to do.”

With Sexton injured, neither he nor Conor Murray will start against England for the first time since 2011. Ireland coach Andy Farrell is trusting Jamison Gibson-Park at scrumhalf after impressing against Wales, and Ross Byrne ahead of Billy Burns at flyhalf. Byrne’s last start was a World Cup warmup thrashing from England last year.

“They deserve a chance to see how they handle a game and run a game on the big stage,” Farrell says of his halves. ”We’re as curious as they are in how they do that.”

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Lineups:

England: Elliot Daly, Jonathan Joseph, Ollie Lawrence, Henry Slade, Jonny May, Owen Farrell (captain), Ben Youngs; Billy Vunipola, Sam Underhill, Tom Curry, Joe Launchbury, Maro Itoje, Kyle Sinckler, Jamie George, Mako Vunipola. Reserves: Tom Dunn, Ellis Genge, Will Stuart, Jonny Hill, Ben Earl, Dan Robson, George Ford, Max Malins.

Ireland: Hugo Keenan, Keith Earls, Chris Farrell, Bundee Aki, James Lowe, Ross Byrne, Jamison Gibson-Park; Caelan Doris, Peter O’Mahony, CJ Stander, James Ryan (captain), Quinn Roux, Andrew Porter, Ronan Kelleher, Cian Healy. Reserves: Rob Herring, Ed Byrne, Finlay Bealham, Iain Henderson, Will Connors, Conor Murray, Billy Burns, Jacob Stockdale.

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