Ford at fly-half as England unchanged for World Cup final

Tokyo (AFP) –


England fly-half George Ford will start the Rugby World Cup final against South Africa after coach Eddie Jones named an unchanged XV on Thursday.

Owen Farrell started at fly-half in the quarter-final win over Australia but moved to inside centre for the stunning 19-7 semi-final victory over reigning champions New Zealand, when Ford resumed the number 10 shirt.

The lone change to England's match-day 23 to face the Springboks in Yokohama on Saturday is on the bench where scrum-half Ben Spencer, who only arrived in Japan on Monday, replaces the injured Willi Heinz.

Both Farrell, continuing his dual playmaker partnership with childhood friend Ford, and wing Jonny May have been passed fit following dead legs suffered against the All Blacks, while prop Kyle Sinckler has been given the all-clear following a calf injury sustained in the semi-final win.

Spencer's three replacement appearances amount to just over 20 minutes of Test rugby.

"It has been a good week, the players have been together a while now so it's less about the volume of training this week, it's more about sharpening the sword," said Jones, the coach of his native Australia when England beat the Wallabies in the 2003 World Cup final.

While England played plenty of attacking rugby in both the 44-16 win over Australia and against New Zealand, the Springboks ground their way to knockout wins over Japan (26-3) and Wales (16-13).

- 'Play with no fear' -

"South Africa are a difficult opponent and we are going to have to fight really hard to win," added Jones, a consultant to the Springbok side that beat England in the 2007 World Cup final in Paris.

"We know the physical part of the game is going to be important and the players will go into this game well prepared knowing how we want to play.

"We will go and play with no fear," added Jones, who will become only the third England coach to be in charge for 50 Tests on Saturday.

"South Africa will probably play a similar type of game they have played all tournament so we need to be good in the arm-wrestle and when we have the opportunities to break the game up, we are then confident and composed enough to take them," explained Jones, whose 80 percent win rate is the best of any England coach.

Every team that has won the World Cup has done so unbeaten, with England yet to lose a match at Japan.

South Africa, by contrast, lost to New Zealand in their opening pool match.

The Springboks, however, have won both their previous World Cup finals, defeating the All Blacks on home soil in 1995 before beating England 12 years later in France.

This will be England's fourth World Cup final, with the Red Rose brigade losing to Australia at Twickenham in the 1991 showpiece match.

England have won their last two Tests against South Africa, edging out the Springboks 12-11 when the teams last met at Twickenham in November 2018.

South Africa announced their team for the final earlier Thursday, with the return of fit-again wing Cheslin Kolbe the only change to their starting XV.

England (15-1)

Elliot Daly; Anthony Watson, Manu Tuilagi, Owen Farrell (capt), Jonny May; George Ford, Ben Youngs; Billy Vunipola, Sam Underhill, Tom Curry; Courtney Lawes, Maro Itoje; Kyle Sinckler, Jamie George, Mako Vunipola

Replacements: Luke Cowan-Dickie, Joe Marler, Dan Cole, George Kruis, Mark Wilson, Ben Spencer, Henry Slade, Jonathan Joseph