Lancaster: Ford has intensified fly-half debate

 
Ross McLean
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Bath fly-half George Ford impressed during his first Test start for England against Samoa
ENGLAND head coach Stuart Lancaster admits the enterprising performance of George Ford against Samoa on Saturday has blown fly-half selection wide open ahead of the weekend’s final autumn clash with Australia at Twickenham.

Saracens No10 Owen Farrell had been the man in possession but the 23-year-old was switched to inside-centre after successive uninspiring showings against world champions New Zealand and South Africa.

Ford was handed his first Test start against the big-hitting islanders and he duly took his chance, demonstrating clever kicking and crisp handling as the Red Rose ran out 29-8 winners and ended a deflating run of five straight defeats.

Lancaster last week dismissed any notion Farrell was undroppable and held a privileged place among the coaching hierarchy given the position of his father Andy Farrell, and he insists England are the beneficiaries of the current selection conundrum.

“We need to crete strength in depth in all positions,” said Lancaster. “It was a tough, physical Samoa side to play against but George Ford’s performance was a step in the right direction for him. He’s so young as a player in international terms but he’s someone who’s going to be around a long time for England. I thought it was a great first start for him.

“He looked calm, he looked composed and he controlled the game well. He was incisive at line breaks. This means Owen’s now got some genuine competition at 10 but also we’ve got the option of Owen at 12.”

Former England skipper Lewis Moody has reiterated the plaudits being fired in the direction of Bath star Ford and believes he and Farrell formed an exciting and expansive partnership at times on Saturday.

But with Australia providing England with one final chance to land a serious blow against a southern hemisphere powerhouse ahead of next year’s World Cup, Moody is not convinced Lancaster will rely on the Ford-Farrell axis against the Wallabies.

“It’s created some interesting questions, Stuart always wanted to look at Ford and Farrell, and now he’s seen them,” said Moody. “It wasn’t a bad performance by both of them, and it was a wonderful one by Ford, but I just don’t know whether we saw enough in that combination to go with them against Australia. As the game went on I wasn’t entirely convinced that combination was the ‘go-to’. I think [Kyle] Eastmond may be Stuart’s ‘go-to’.”