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Eddie Jones has taken a huge gamble in changing a tried and tested team to move Owen Farrell back to fly-half – but it is a roll of the dice that could well prove to be his Sam Burgess moment.
In 2015 Stuart Lancaster threw four years of preparations out of the window to select rugby league convert Burgess in the hope that he was the key to resolving England’s well-documented problems in midfield, only for the move to destabilise the squad and bring an imbalance that would result in their early pool-stage elimination.
Though Henry Slade is no Sam Burgess, he has not started a match this season, with the Premiership final on 1 June his last full appearance due to a knee ligament injury suffered in August. It is a risk to throw him into the deep end in a Rugby World Cup quarter-final, particularly against an Australia side that saves their best performances for this stage.
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Slade’s promotion comes at George Ford’s expense, with the fly-half desperately unlucky to drop to the bench after three impressive showings so far in Japan. Jones will dress it up as a squad effort and that the Leicester No 10 has not been dropped, but the matter of fact is that it completely changes how England will play.
The decision may have been planned all along, with the three selections against Tonga, United States and Argentina possible decoys to hinder Australia’s preparations for this match,
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