ENGLAND head coach Stuart Lancaster has confirmed he is set to retain George Ford at fly-half when his side conclude their autumn programme against Australia at Twickenham on Saturday.
Bath No10 Ford is now the man in possession after impressing on his first international start as England ended a deflating run of five successive defeats with a morale-boosting victory over Samoa.
The clash with the Wallabies represents England’s final chance to take the scalp of a southern hemisphere powerhouse ahead of next year’s World Cup having already succumbed to world champions New Zealand and South Africa in the QBE Series.
The stakes are even higher against Australia given England will face Michael Cheika’s side in a World Cup pool clash at Twickenham in October, with Lancaster likely to choose between Owen Farrell and Billy Twelvetrees as a second playmaker at inside-centre.
“George has earned the right to start again. He’s played well enough for that,” said Lancaster. “It was the right game [versus Samoa] to bring him in, Australia is another step up and he probably deserves to keep the shirt.
“Owen helped George out a lot in terms of on-field communication. George benefitted from having someone like Owen alongside him. Billy Twelvetrees impressed me from the bench. He did well and brought good energy to the team. He’s worked hard on the feedback we gave him when he came back into camp and he’s a genuine prospect for us at 12.”
Lancaster yesterday called up Exeter Chiefs back-row forward Thomas Waldrom to England’s training group ahead of Saturday’s showdown after No8 Billy Vunipola was ruled out with concussion, while Danny Care, Semesa Rokoduguni and Kyle Eastmond were all released.
Vunipola was injured playing for Saracens against Northampton on Sunday after being dropped for England’s fixture with Samoa in favour of Gloucester’s Ben Morgan.
England are also sweating on the fitness of influential second row Courtney Lawes after the Northampton lock suffered a hyper-extension of his knee against the big-hitting islanders, although Lancaster has refused to rule out the 25-year-old. “We’re reasonably optimistic,” added Lancaster. “It’s definitely not as bad as first feared.”
Lancaster’s training pool
■ Forwards: J. Marler, M. Mullan, K. Brookes, D. Wilson, D. Hartley, R. Webber, D. Attwood, G. Kitchener, G. Kruis, C. Lawes, C. Clark, J. Haskell, B. Morgan, C. Robshaw (Captain), T. Waldrom, T. Wood
■ Backs: L. Dickson, R. Wigglesworth, B. Youngs, B. Barritt, L. Burrell, O. Farrell, G. Ford, S. Myler, B. Twelvetrees, M. Brown, A. Goode, J. May, J.Nowell, A. Watson, M. Yarde