ENGLAND head coach Stuart Lancaster is relishing the prospect of finally unleashing George Ford against Samoa at Twickenham on Saturday as his side bid to revive their flagging autumn programme.
Ford is set to make his first Test start following four appearances as a replacement and his inclusion represents one of five changes to the side which crashed to an uninspiring loss against South Africa last weekend.
The 21-year-old’s selection at fly-half sees Owen Farrell switch to inside centre, while Harlequins scrum-half Danny Care is ousted in favour of Leicester counterpart Ben Youngs.
There is also a shuffling of the pack with Rob Webber replacing Dylan Hartley at hooker and No8 Ben Morgan and flanker James Haskell coming in for Billy Vunipola and Tom Wood in the back-row, although it is Ford’s involvement which most enthuses Lancaster.
“We would have liked to play him before now,” he said. “We had him pencilled down to start in the first Test against New Zealand in the summer but unfortunately he got that shoulder injury that prevented him getting that experience.
“Coming into this series, he was playing well for Bath but it was a big step to face New Zealand. He has been in the camp for two weeks and has been bossing the show, which is what you want from a fly-half. There’s some exciting combinations we want to look at. I felt the team that played against New Zealand deserved a second chance and while some players improved there were one or two areas which weren’t as good as I hoped.”
Farrell’s form and fitness have come under scrutiny since South Africa dented England’s World Cup preparations further by inflicting a fifth successive defeat, the Red Rose’s worst run of form since 2006.
With Lancaster bidding to take strides to tweak a back-line which failed to land any serious blows to the Springboks, he has turned to Ford and Farrell to reprise a successful midfield partnership which has its roots in the England Under-16 team.
Farrell started his first two international games at inside centre, including Lancaster’s inaugural Test in charge of the national team back in 2012, but the former Leeds Carnegie coach insists the Saracens No10 is far from untouchable.
“Owen wasn’t to blame for the performances against New Zealand or South Africa,” added Lancaster. “He’s a great communicator and leader and a great support for George. It’s not true that Owen is undroppable. He has been dropped in the past and this is a combination we wanted to look at.”
Mike Brown, Anthony Watson, Brad Barritt, Owen Farrell, Jonny May, George Ford, Ben Youngs; Joe Marler, Rob Webber, David Wilson, Dave Attwood, Courtney Lawes, James Haskell, Chris Robshaw, Ben Morgan
Replacements: Dylan Hartley, Matt Mullan, Kieran Brookes, George Kruis, Tom Wood, Richard Wigglesworth, Billy Twelvetrees, Marland Yarde