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Rugby World Cup quarter-final: England vs. Australia preview, team news, starting XVs, predictions, UK time

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England vs. Australia 

  • What: Rugby World Cup quarter-final  
  • When: Saturday 19 October  
  • Where: Oita Stadium, Oita, Japan  
  • UK start time: 8.15am  
  • TV coverage: live on ITV 

England head coach Eddie Jones has sprung a surprise in naming his starting XV for Saturday’s Rugby World Cup quarter-final clash against Australia.

Out goes George Ford, who is replaced at fly-half by Owen Farrell.

Captain Farrell has appeared at centre so far this tournament, but Henry Slade replaces him in the midfield, forming a potent partnership with Manu Tuilagi.

On the decision to leave Ford out, Jones told Sky Sports: “We don’t see it as dropping. I know the media does – but we see him as playing a different role. He is going to finish the game for us, and have an equally important role as when he was starting.

“We have a number of other players in our squad of 31 who are disappointed, but they are all professional enough. They have got a great team spirit and they know they have got a role to play. 

“Everyone has got a role to play on the Saturday, even our guys outside the 23. George understands the role he has to play. Obviously he would have liked to start but he is coping with it well.”

Billy’s back

Billy Vunipola has recovered from the ankle injury he suffered against Argentina to take his place in the back row alongside Tom Curry and Sam Underhill.

Mako Vunipola, Billy’s brother, makes his first start of the World Cup at prop with Joe Marler dropping down to the bench.

Meanwhile, in the second row Jones has gone for the tough-tackling Courtney Lawes instead of line-out specialist George Kruis.

The selection of Lawes and Mako Vunipola suggests that Jones is confident England have the edge over Australia in the set-piece and he is more concerned with winning the battle in the loose. 

Kruis is a better line-out jumper than Lawes and Marler a superior scrummager to Vunipola, but neither is as prominent in defence. 

“We need to defend with brutality and when we have the ball we need play on top of them,” said Jones.

Shock selection

The Guardian describes the selection of Farrell at No.10 as a “major shock” given that Jones employed Ford as his fly-half in the pool stages. 

Ford has played well, admittedly against three mediocre teams who never put him under much pressure, but it’s more the diffident form of Farrell at inside centre that has been a cause for concern. 

His goal-kicking has been wayward and he lacks the pace and penetration to be a world-class centre. 

Henry Slade doesn’t, and his return to full fitness after a knee injury now gives England a balance of pace and Tuilagi’s raw power in the midfield.

Mind games

“Once you get to the quarter-finals it’s about having the right mindset,” said Jones in announcing the starting XV. “We know how well we can play, it’s about us playing to our strengths and trying to take away from what Australia want.”

Out wide Jones has kept faith with Elliot Daly at full-back, and picked Jonny May (left) and Anthony Watson (right) on the wings. 

It will be May’s 50th cap and Jones said of him: “He has come back from a significant knee injury to be close to the fastest winger, if not the fastest winger in the world, and has the ability to score tries from any situation.”

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Aussies gamble

Australia have taken what the Sydney Morning Herald has described as a “huge gamble” in selecting teenager Jordan Petaia at outside centre and returning Reece Hodge to the wing after his three-week suspension for a dangerous tackle in the tournament opener against Fiji. 

The 19-year-old Petaia is a big talent but he has only two Test caps to his name and his task on Saturday is to tame Manu Tuilagi.

Wallabies coach Michael Cheika has once more wrung the changes at half-back, pairing scrum-half Will Genia with Christian Lealiifano, which is Australia’s fifth different nine-ten partnership at the World Cup.

How to watch on TV in the UK

The first quarter-final of the weekend is live on ITV. Coverage of Saturday’s clash begins at 7.30am (UK time) and the match starts at 8.15am.

Saturday’s second quarter-final sees Ireland take on holders New Zealand (11.15am) then on Sunday it’s Wales vs. France (8.15am) and Japan vs. South Africa (11.15am).

RWC predictions: quarter-finals, tournament winners, betting odds

Confirmed teams

England starting XV
  • 15. Elliot Daly, 14. Anthony Watson, 13. Henry Slade, 12. Manu Tuilagi, 11. Jonny May, 10. Owen Farrell (captain), 9. Ben Youngs; 8. Billy Vunipola, 7. Sam Underhill, 6. Tom Curry, 5. Courtney Lawes, 4. Maro Itoje, 3. Kyle Sinckler, 2. Jamie George, 1. Mako Vunipola 
  • Replacements: 16. Luke Cowan-Dickie, 17. Joe Marler, 18. Dan Cole, 19. George Kruis, 20. Lewis Ludlam, 21. Willi Heinz, 22. George Ford, 23. Jamie Joseph
Australia starting XV
  • 15. Kurtley Beale, 14. Reece Hodge, 13. Jordan Petaia, 12. Samu Kerevi, 11. Marika Koroibete, 10. Christian Lealiifano, 9. Will Genia; 8. Isi Naisarani, 7. Michael Hooper (captain), 6. David Pocock, 5. Rory Arnold, 4. Izack Rodda, 3. Allan Alaalatoa, 2. Tolu Latu, 1. Scott Sio  
  • Replacements: 16. Jordan Uelese, 17. James Slipper, 18. Taniela Tupou, 19. Adam Coleman, 20. Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, 21. Nic White, 22. Matt To’omua, 23. James O’Connor

Pundit predictions

The Daily Telegraph: England 21 Australia 13

“England have had the edge on Australia in recent times but have not really been tested at this tournament. Australia have played well in patches but look inconsistent. England’s forwards will have just too much in Oita. Prediction: England 21 Australia 13.”

Malik Ouzia, London Evening Standard: England 23 Australia 19

“[Eddie] ​Jones’ men have had the Wallabies’ number in recent times, but things are never quite that simple in tournament rugby. Still, England should have a little too much. Prediction: England 23 Australia 19.”

Drew Mitchell, former Wallaby, GQ: Australia by four points

“[England] are a team without too many obvious weaknesses. I think one that they might have is a softer underbelly given that they bowed out against us in the pool stage of the last World Cup. We haven’t been starting well in this World Cup campaign for various reasons, but if we can get off to a good start and put pressure on them it could start to feed a few of those doubts that might be simmering just underneath the surface.” 

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For analysis of the biggest sport stories – and a concise, refreshing and balanced take on the week’s news – try The Week magazine. Get your first six issues for £6
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Liam Hyslop, Stuff.co.nz: England to win

“England have had the wood on Australia for the last four years, and I expect that to continue in this one. It will be a close one, but England should grind this one out.”

Gareth Jones, Sporting Life: England to win

“Anything could happen in Saturday’s latest intriguing instalment, but it really shouldn’t. This should be an England victory.”

Ash Wheldon, The Stats Zone: England to win

“The postponement of the England and France game could be a blow to the former’s chances as they head into the quarter-finals potentially undercooked. That being said, the Wallabies looked poor for most of the pool stage and with six losses in a row against England, they face an uphill task to progress. England will certainly fancy their chances in this one but must get off to a strong start which will knock the confidence of the Wallabies and allow them to prevail.”

ESPN: England by three points

“[England] will be well-rested after their match against France was cancelled due to Typhoon Hagibis, and face an as yet underwhelming Australia side who have lost their last six games against England and are yet to really turn it on in Japan. That being said, Michael Cheika will have the Wallabies raring to go against familiar foes in what could be a closely-fought affair.”

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