Thursday 29 August 2019 8:14 pm

Ollie Phillips: George Ford's Ireland performance gives Eddie Jones a World Cup selection headache

I was busy getting married on Saturday so didn’t watch England against Ireland live, but it’s fair to say the best day of my life got even better when I saw the score.

Watching the recording back after tying the knot I couldn’t help but be encouraged by what I saw. England are on fire and perhaps are showing the value of Eddie Jones’s decision to name his 31-man World Cup squad early.

There are no doubts clouding the players’ minds. They don’t have to worry about selection, so can focus on what is really important. 

Read more: Ruaridh McConnochie exemplifies Eddie Jones’s World Cup squad


By contrast, Ireland are earlier in their preparation for Japan and haven’t named their squad yet. They were miles off the pace and lost 57-15 to leave Joe Schmidt and Andy Farrell scratching their heads.

England's fly-half George Ford (C) passes the ball during the international Test rugby union match between England and Ireland at Twickenham Stadium in west London on August 24, 2019. (Photo by Glyn KIRK / AFP)        (Photo credit should read GLYN KIRK/AFP/Getty Images)
George Ford ran the show from fly-half against Ireland (Getty Images)

England could only play what was in front of them and they absolutely dispatched Ireland, running in eight tries to record their biggest margin of victory against the visitors. No one could have hoped for a better display.

It’s dangerous to get carried away with the results in warm-ups, but from what I’ve seen England look well set with one more game before they embark on their World Cup campaign.

Fantastic Ford

Last week I wrote that I would be interested to see how George Ford played at fly-half when Owen Farrell was in the same line-up at inside-centre. The answer, for now at least, is brilliantly.

Against Ireland he wasn’t overawed with the captain alongside him. He looked confident, his distribution was excellent and he was always threatening. 

Previously I saw the combination as a good option for Jones to have, but now I think Ford has done enough to give the head coach a genuine selection headache. 

The Leicester fly-half is in red-hot form and the balance with Farrell and Manu Tuilagi at centre looks a really solid one. Henry Slade is a great player, but he may find himself on the bench once he’s back fit.

England's centre Manu Tuilagi (L) on his way to scoring a try during the international Test rugby union match between England and Ireland at Twickenham Stadium in west London on August 24, 2019. (Photo by Glyn KIRK / AFP)        (Photo credit should read GLYN KIRK/AFP/Getty Images)
Tuilagi’s presence and ball-carrying ability at outside-centre was excellent (Getty Images)

Tuilagi scored one of the eight tries at the weekend and his position at outside-centre was critical, with him and winger Joe Cokanasiga offering big, physical ball-carrying options in the wide channels.

They are both the sort of players which cause the opposition doubt.

When you throw No8 Billy Vunipola, second row Maro Itoje and flankers Sam Underhill and Tom Curry into the mix it was overwhelming for Ireland. 

The array of carriers generates momentum and allows the playmakers to always be on the front foot, where they come into their own.

Youngs off colour

There were a few negatives, however. As I mentioned last week England are so reliant on Billy Vunipola being fit and firing, while the injury to his brother Mako was a blow too.

The form of scrum-half Ben Youngs is also slightly concerning. He’s the undisputed first-choice No9 and yet he’s not at his best currently, and while Willi Heinz is playing well and pushing him, his inexperience counts against him.

England's scrum-half Ben Youngs (C) prepares to put the ball in the scrum during the international Test rugby union match between England and Ireland at Twickenham Stadium in west London on August 24, 2019. (Photo by Glyn KIRK / AFP)        (Photo credit should read GLYN KIRK/AFP/Getty Images)
Unlike most of his team mates Youngs wasn’t at his best (Getty Images)

We saw pretty much England’s strongest XV against Ireland and I think next Friday’s clash with Italy is a chance to rotate a bit more.

Everyone needs minutes and all different combinations need to be tested out, while experience is very valuable before a World Cup, especially for someone like Ruaridh McConnochie, who is still yet to make his debut due to injuries.

Overall it’s a wholly positive picture England are painting right now and, with other major players on the world stage stuttering, the opening game against Tonga on 22 September can’t come soon enough.

Main image credit: Getty Images

Former England Sevens captain Ollie Phillips is a director within the real estate & construction team at PwC and founder of Optimist Performance. Follow Ollie on Twitter and on LinkedIn

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