George Ford continues at fly-half as England keep faith with the side that stunned Ireland for their attempt at winning the Guinness Six Nations title.

Head coach Steve Borthwick has made only one enforced changed for the showdown with France in Lyon on Saturday night by choosing Elliot Daly to replace the injured Immanuel Feyi-Waboso.

Feyi-Waboso self-reported concussion symptoms incurred against Ireland, prompting England to stand down their breakout player of the tournament.

Veteran Daly is restored to the left wing in his absence, with Tommy Freeman switching to the number 14 jersey worn by the 21-year Exeter Chief on his first international start.

Manu Tuilagi makes his first appearance of the Six Nations after taking Daly’s place on the bench in what will be his first Test since last autumn’s World Cup bronze medal match, having missed the opening rounds because of a groin problem.

Ford has held off the challenge of Marcus Smith to retain the fly-half duties for the climax to the tournament.

Smith kicked the last-gasp drop goal that sank Ireland 23-22 last Saturday and made a telling contribution off the bench, bring extra zip to England’s attack after Ford had pulled the strings effectively earlier on.

A second change among the replacements sees Ethan Roots replace calf injury victim Chandler Cunningham-South.

England will win the title if Ireland lose to Scotland without claiming a bonus point and they defeat France while securing a bonus point.

“After such a hard-fought win against Ireland last week, we realise how important it is to back that performance up with another similar display in Lyon on Saturday,” Borthwick said.

“France remain one of the very top sides in the world and will pose a great challenge for us.

“We’ve had a great preparation so far this week and there is a genuine sense of anticipation and determination around the camp as we head to what will be an exciting final weekend.”

Nick Tompkins says that Wales are excited and not daunted by the challenge that awaits them against Guinness Six Nations title favourites Ireland on Saturday.

The odds are stacked against Wales, having not won a Six Nations game in Dublin since 2012 and facing a team marching ominously towards achieving back-to-back Grand Slams.

More than a third of Wales’ match-day 23 have cap totals in single figures, while a vastly-experienced Ireland team last suffered a Six Nations defeat two years ago.

Asked if there was a more daunting test in world rugby than tackling Ireland at the Aviva Stadium, Wales centre Tompkins said: “I don’t know about daunting.

“Daunting makes it sounds like we are scared. We are not. We are excited.

“Realistically, we have got nothing to lose. It is a big challenge, but you need those big ones.

“There is no point in playing a mediocre side, and it is going to be good to see where we are at.”

Wales lost their opening two Six Nations encounters against Scotland and England by a combined margin of three points and could easily have arrived in Dublin with an unbeaten record.

Scotland held on for a 27-26 victory in Cardiff after Wales scored 26 unanswered points, while it took a late George Ford penalty to overhaul Wales’ nine-point interval advantage at Twickenham.

Ireland, though, have proved themselves time and time again as northern hemisphere rugby’s current dominant force, with Wales facing easily their sternest test since Warren Gatland returned for a second stint as head coach prior to last season’s Six Nations.

Tompkins added: “If we are off on any one thing, any one aspect of play, they are going to pounce on it.

“We have been talking this week about the need to give everything, in every area of the game, all the time. It needs to be (for) 80 minutes as well.

“We have bigged this up enough for ourselves, we are focusing on ourselves, but the boys know what lies ahead.

“I am not saying you can’t make any mistakes, but in those moments when you have got them under pressure, you cannot let them off.

“It is nice when you have got some of those younger lads. They don’t have that fear, that naivety.

“It’s quite nice, so you try and install that and go out and play and have a bit of enjoyment about it. When you do that against Scotland and you come back and you should have won it, or nearly won it, it just shows where we can take it.

“I don’t want them to go there and worry about outside aspects or we can’t beat them or we can’t do this, I want them to go and just be them and be confident with it and enjoy it.”

England’s ambition of making a fresh start on their return to Twickenham failed to produce the hoped for fireworks but they at least had the resilience to dig out a 16-14 victory over Wales.

For the first time in Guinness Six Nations history, Warren Gatland’s team led at the interval in their great rival’s stronghold after storming 14-5 ahead through a penalty try and Alex Mann touch down.

But the favourites hit back when Fraser Dingwall went over in the left corner before George Ford stepped up to land the decisive penalty in the 72nd minute, rewarding a more polished second half.

Having finished third at last autumn’s World Cup, England saw their first outing at Twickenham since rebuilding their team as an opportunity to reconnect with fans, but this scruffy afternoon was too close for comfort.

Championship history was made when Hollie Davidson became the first female member of an officiating team for a men’s match – and what the hosts would have given for her assured performance on the sideline.

Wales must come to terms with an eighth successive defeat at Twickenham dating back to 2015 and their inability to score a point in the second half, but despite the outcome there was enough on display to encourage Gatland.

From the moment Freddie Steward carved through the visiting defence in the opening seconds, it appeared as though Wales were in for a long afternoon.

Only timely intervention from Rio Dyer thwarted England in the right corner, Elliot Daly raced clear and a crash ball intended for Henry Slade close to the whitewash just failed to find its target as the the assault continued.

Yet for all the early dominance, points proved elusive and then the tide turned when Ollie Chessum was sent to the sin bin for a dangerous tackle before a penalty try was awarded to Wales.

Ethan Roots was singled out by referee James Doleman for bringing down the maul and as a result was shown a yellow card, reducing England to 13 players for five minutes.

Remarkably, the hosts hit back immediately when Ben Earl powered over from the base of a scrum, breaking four tackles before touching down with an outstretched arm.

A dramatic opening quarter ended with George Ford failing to take the conversion when Wales chased down the kick, even though England’s fly-half had yet to start his run up.

Ford was bemused that Doleman found in the visitors’ favour and England then had to steel themselves for a lengthy period of defence, although there was a lack of cutting edge to really trouble them.

Daly and Slade kicked long to relieve the pressure on Steve Borthwick’s men, who were struggling to escape their half, but there was no stopping Wales when their attack clicked into gear on the cusp of half-time.

Josh Adams launched the move but the key moment came when the brilliant Tommy Reffell took an inside ball which he then slipped out of the tackle, allowing Tomos Williams to gather and send Alex Mann over.

England emerged for the second half with greater purpose and Daly almost went over in the left corner, but soon after Ford landed a penalty.

A defensive lapse by Daly waved Wales through and they almost scored, but successive scrum penalties settled the home team, with the second providing the platform to engineer their second try.

Once the forwards had weakened the red wall with carry after carry, the ball was swept left where an unmarked Dingwall was able to cross.

And the tide turned when Mason Grady was sent to the sin bin for a deliberate knock-on and up stepped Ford to kick England ahead for the first time, consigning Wales to defeat.

England have revealed Marcus Smith could miss the entire Guinness Six Nations because of the calf injury that has ruled him of at least Saturday’s opener against Italy and Wales a week later.

A clearer picture over Smith’s fitness will emerge next week, but in the meantime veteran George Ford has been installed at fly-half for the Stadio Olimpico showdown with Fin Smith deputising from the bench.

Fin Smith is one of five uncapped players in the matchday 23 and should all of them get time on the field, it will be the highest number of new caps awarded in a single match since Stuart Lancaster’s first game in charge in 2012.

Centre Fraser Dingwall and flanker Ethan Roots are included in the starting XV while Smith, back row Chandler Cunningham-South and wing Immanuel Feyi-Waboso feature on the bench.

In a boost to England, Alex Mitchell has recovered from a leg wound to take his place at scrum-half, but the player who was expected to partner him at half-back faces an anxious wait to see if he will be involved at all over the coming weeks.

“Marcus will go back to England today (Thursday) and have further investigations later this week. He won’t be available next week,” Borthwick said.

“We’re not sure exactly when. Hopefully he will play in the latter part of the Six Nations, but it will be a number of weeks. We’ll know more next week.”

Mitchell’s immediate prospects of building on becoming first-choice scrum-half at the World Cup were thrown into doubt when he felt unwell as a result of the infected wound he took into England’s camp in Girona, preventing him from training fully until Thursday morning.

“Our medical team took great care of him over the weekend and at start of the week to get the infection under control and he looks brilliant,” Borthwick said.

“He played a lot of minutes for us during the World Cup and has played a lot of time for his club, so he is match sharp and ready to go. He looked fantastic in training today (Thursday).”

Experienced faces such as Ford, Joe Marler and Maro Itoje are present throughout the 23, but the rare inclusion of five debutants indicated the post-2023 World Cup rebuilding phase is under way, even if some of the picks were forced on Borthwick.

Dingwall starts at inside centre having been included in nine previous England squads without winning a cap, giving him the opportunity to prove he is the solution to the team’s problem position.

Although lacking the raw power of the injured Manu Tuilagi and Ollie Lawrence, the 24-year-old is a classy runner who is comfortable at 12 or 13.

Roots, a former jiu-jitsu champion who qualifies for England through his father, represented the Maori All Blacks but having left New Zealand in 2021 he has proved a hit at the Ospreys and now Exeter.

If Finn Smith, Cunningham-South and Immanuel Feyi-Waboso join them on the field, it will be an injection of fresh faces not seen for 12 years.

“Each one of those guys has earned his place in the matchday 23. Each one of them is an exciting young player,” Borthwick said.

“I didn’t think I’d be naming a 23 with five debutants. I’ve asked when the last time was England named a 23 with five new caps in it!”

Marcus Smith has been backed to deliver on the biggest night of his career after England gambled by picking the Harlequins magician at full-back for Sunday’s World Cup quarter-final against Fiji.

Smith will make only his second professional start in the number 15 jersey and, while he has also banked a number of influential cameos as a replacement, he remains a converted fly-half who is unproven in the position at the highest level.

England believe he will continue to thrive in his new role, providing a cutting edge in attack and a second ball-playing option, and have sacrificed the ultra dependable Freddie Steward to accommodate him.

Another seismic selection sees Owen Farrell replace George Ford at fly-half even though the Sale ringmaster has excelled at the World Cup, delivering man-of-the-match displays against Argentina and Japan.

All eyes will be on Smith, however, in the hope that he can reproduce the fireworks seen in the group match against Chile when he ran in two tries.

Harlequins team-mate Joe Marler has known the 24-year-old since he arrived at Twickenham Stoop as a teenager and quickly realised he was a special talent.

“Marcus is a big-match player. I’m really happy for him to get his opportunity to start again in a World Cup. He’ll thrive,” Marler said.

“He’s shown it off the bench in the moments we’ve needed him and I hope he can do that from the start.

“At the club he was confident early on, even to the point where I turn around and say ‘I’m going to have to say something to this guy, he’s gobbing off at me’. I’ve been at the club 10 years and he’s gobbing off at me.

“I was like ‘he’s a jumped up, entitled, little, private school kid’. And then when you realise how good he is at rugby and why he’s doing what he’s doing, I was like ‘I’m going to listen to him because he’s going to get us into positions where we can win more rugby games because he knows what he’s talking about’.

“He’s done it consistently at club level and now it’s about now doing it consistently at international level. What better place to do that than starting in the quarter-final?”

Farrell will dovetail with Smith in attack with the pair each operating at first and second receiver at different times. England’s captain has noted his team-mate’s appetite to take on the opposition.

“I’m impressed with how much Marcus wants to get after it – how much he wants the ball, how much he wants to make a difference,” Farrell said.

“From what I’ve seen so far the bigger the occasion, the more he wants to do that. It’s not like Marcus hasn’t played in big games – he’s won the Premierships.

“He wants to have a big impact on the game and so far he’s been doing that. I see it being no different this weekend.”

England field eight survivors from the starting XV that took on South Africa in the World Cup final four years ago and it could be a final appearance for several members of Borthwick’s squad – providing additional motivation against Fiji.

“There are definitely a number of us that won’t play for England again after this tournament,” Marler said.

“We have been together a number of years, we have built friendships and bonds. We want to give this our all and finish on a high.

“You never know when your last game is. You’ve got to make the most of what you can.”

Samoa may have endured a disappointing World Cup that is almost certain to result in group-stage elimination but they will be determined to finish on a high against Pool D winners England in Lille on Saturday.

Here the PA news agency examines five talking points ahead of England’s last match before the knockout phase.

England go full bore

Steve Borthwick takes satisfaction in repeating his mantra that the next match is all that counts, but by going full bore against Samoa he has revealed his selection thinking for the quarter-final against probable opponents Fiji. One or two adjustments aside, this is the starting XV that will take the field in Marseille on Sunday week, shaped around the generalship of George Ford and Owen Farrell.

Back in the saddle

Explaining his decision to reunite twin playmakers Ford and Farrell as starters for the first time since the 2021 Six Nations, Borthwick pointed to their win ratio of 77.5 per cent across 40 Tests when paired together at fly-half and inside centre. England’s head coach believes a partnership that flourished under his predecessor Eddie Jones, reaching its apex in the World Cup semi-final destruction of New Zealand four years ago, can thrive once again.

History beckons for beefed up Farrell

Farrell has packed on extra muscle in anticipation of his new role at inside centre, where he will provide a carrying threat on top of assisting Ford to run the game with spells at first-receiver as well as offering midfield kick, run and pass options. Earlier this week scrum-half Danny Care gave an insight into how Farrell will be used when he said: “Owen is a big 10 so he will punch the line a little bit more”. Farrell is also assigned the goalkicking duties and needs only two more points to eclipse the England record of 1,179 set by Jonny Wilkinson.

England know their strengths

“Big boy rugby” is how Ireland prop Tadhg Furlong described the Lions’ first Test against South Africa in 2021 and that sentiment permeates through England’s dry run for the quarter-finals. Gone are the dazzling maestros of the 11-try rout of Chile – Marcus Smith and Henry Arundell – and in comes a win-at-all-costs mentality signposted by the inclusion of elite kickers at 10 and 12 and the squad’s two best kick chasing wings in Jonny May and Joe Marchant. Borthwick’s England are confident of their strengths, according to Courtney Lawes: “We’re a really strong defensive team. That’s our backbone. We’re an aerial kicking team and are very good at getting the ball back.”

Manu’s special moment

A big moment awaits for one of England’s greatest servants as Manu Tuilagi faces the nation of his birth for the first time in a Test career spanning 55 caps. Many of England’s finest performances of the last 12 years have had Tuilagi at their heart and while not the force of old, his pedigree as an international centre has enabled him to reach an important occasion. The 32-year-old left Samoa as a teenager but remains proud of his Islander heritage and has been an inspirational figure for both countries.

England have reunited playmakers George Ford and Owen Farrell in their backline for Saturday’s final World Cup group match against Samoa in Lille.

They start together for the first time since the 2021 Six Nations as Steve Borthwick revives the creative axis that has excelled for England in the past as he assesses his options for the quarter-final.

Ford starts at fly-half having produced man-of-the-match displays against Argentina and Japan while Farrell shifts to inside centre to accommodate his rival for the 10 jersey.

Farrell needs two more points to become England’s highest scorer of all time, eclipsing the mark of 1,179 set by Jonny Wilkinson.

Manu Tuilagi is picked at 13 to provide a ball-carrying threat in what will be a special occasion for the Sale powerhouse, who faces the nation of his birth for the first time.

Joe Marchant is squeezed out of the midfield but finds a home on to the right wing, meaning there is no place for Henry Arundell despite his five-try haul against Chile.

Arundell drops out of the 23 altogether, as does Elliot Daly with Jonny May winning the race to start on the other wing as part of a back three that sees Freddie Steward replace Marcus Smith.

The urge to give Smith another run at full-back has been resisted but the rapid Harlequins ringmaster is poised to complete another cameo off the bench at Stade Pierre-Mauroy.

England are at full strength against Samoa and evidence of Ben Earl’s rise as a force on the Test stage is seen in his selection at number eight ahead of Billy Vunipola, who features on the bench.

Tom Curry is restored at openside after playing just 179 seconds against Argentina, at which point he was sent off for a dangerous tackle that resulted in a two-match ban which he completed against Chile.

A surprise pick in the front row sees Dan Cole preferred ahead of Kyle Sinckler at tighthead prop.

England qualified for the quarter-finals as Pool D winners on September 28 when Japan beat Samoa, allowing them to advance to a knockout appointment with likely opponents Fiji despite having a match to spare.

Borthwick said: “Whilst we are of course pleased with our results and qualification into the pool stages, we want to continue our improvement with a positive performance against a difficult and in-form Samoa team.

“Samoa are renowned for their physicality and this last game in the pool stages will be an excellent test for us as we continue in our World Cup journey.”

George Ford has been working with Jonny Wilkinson to turn the drop-goal into a weapon at the World Cup.

Ford landed three as England opened the tournament with a 27-10 rout of Argentina in Marseille last Saturday and is ready to continue using them if the opportunity arises.

To assist with the tactic, the Sale fly-half has been perfecting his technique with Wilkinson, who famously landed the drop-goal that enabled England to lift the World Cup in 2003.

“Jonny’s big thing is don’t worry about the posts,” said Ford, who continues in the number 10 jersey for Sunday’s showdown with Japan in Nice.

“Obviously you need to know where they are, but the only thing you can control is what you do in terms of how you place the ball and what you do with your body.

“Jonny said you can have the ugliest drop in the world but if you get your body right and the ball is in the slot, and you get the momentum of your body towards the target, you can do it.

“How many drop goals do you see that flap over? A lot of kickers say if you speak to kids growing up they are constantly looking at the posts as if they are going move to make the ball go over.

“The drop-goal has probably been underused. You watch Jonny’s era in 2003 and 2007 and the influence drop-goals had on the game then was enormous.

“Maybe the game has tipped the balance the other side of the spectrum where everyone thinks you need to score tries every two minutes, but you need a variety of ways of scoring.

“We had spoken quite a bit about them in pre-season and how big they can be, especially at World Cups. They can be really effective and hopefully we can show that again.”

In training, Ford competes with fellow playmakers Owen Farrell and Marcus Smith to see how many drop-goals they can kick – under the watchful eye of rugby league great Kevin Sinfield, who is now England’s defence coach.

“It is interesting speaking to Kev because in rugby league you might not see as many drop-goals because it is only worth one point,” Ford said.

“But he said as soon as play-off games came around, how much they practised went through the roof because they knew they would need a couple in a semi or a final, so we are doing this thing at the minute where we kick until we miss.

“Obviously if you don’t kick many before you miss you might go again, but there is a fair bit of competition and pressure between myself, Owen and Marcus when we are doing it.

“We are bringing lads over to come and put pressure on us, because we are not daft, you are not in armchair. You need to make it as realistic as possible.”

Maro Itoje insists England will do whatever it takes to win if a substance over style approach emerges as their blueprint for success at the World Cup.

George Ford kicked all 27 points in their rout of Argentina last Saturday as England responded to the third-minute dismissal of Tom Curry for a dangerous tackle by grinding the Pumas into submission.

It was a rousing riposte to a dismal warm-up campaign but having excelled in defence and shown the smarts to shape their gameplan according to events, a potent attack remains elusive.

Free running Japan are the next assignment at the Stade de Nice on Sunday and while Itoje would prefer to see England run riot, he will take a victory any way it comes.

When asked if it matters how the team win, Itoje said: “For me, it’s by any means necessary.

“Obviously, we like to score tries and we’d like to score loads of tries. But for me it’s by any means necessary as long as we get the win.

“Every game’s different and is going to present different challenges. The task is to find ways to get on the positive side of the result.

“We know Japan move the ball. We know they are a very clever team that comes up with clever plays. However, the goal and task is to enforce an English style of rugby on this game.

“We want to show our best hand and we want to defend it well. We want to impose our physicality.

“We want to get into our set piece game and when the opportunity is right our generals will fire us in attack. Yes Japan move the ball, but it is about us imposing our will on them.

“Japan run the ball more than Argentina and are very aggressive with how they play and the spirit and the energy of how they play.”

Japan are not the force that lit up the 2019 World Cup with the pandemic hitting them harder than any other international side as they were prevented from playing a Test for two years.

If, as expected, England dispatch a team who have fallen to 14th in the global rankings they will have clear sight of a place in the quarter-finals with group games against Chile and Samoa left to play.

But Jamie George accepts that if they are to progress further in the competition, they must develop more strings to their bow.

“If we’re going to win a World Cup, which is what we’re here to do, we know that we’re going to have to kick on from where we were,” George said.

“The great English teams that I watched growing up and that I have been a part of based their teams around great defence and great set piece.

“As long as we are doing that I think our attacking game flows off the back of that. We have got players who can do special things.

“You have just seen the start of us in this tournament. We hope you will see us score points in different ways.”

George Ford had Jannie de Beer and England team-mate Danny Care in his sights as he masterminded a stunning 27-10 victory over Argentina in their World Cup clash at the Stade Velodrome.

Steve Borthwick’s men entered the Pool D opener as underdogs for the first time in the history of the fixture yet emerged conclusive winners despite seeing Tom Curry sent off in the third minute for a dangerous tackle.

Confronted by crisis yet again – Curry was their fourth red card in six Tests – they responded defiantly by matching spirited defence with smart, on-the-hoof game management.

Ford took command of an ugly spectacle by kicking the shambolic Pumas into oblivion, landing six penalties and three drop goals while intelligently steering his team around the field.

It was the drop goals – all landed in the second quarter – that infused England with belief and in the process evoked memories of when South Africa’s De Beer slotted a record five to boot them out of the 1999 World Cup.

But Ford joked that an internal rivalry also drove him on in a win that offers clear sight of the knockout phase.

“Jannie de Beer is the guy who got five in a game? I thought I was on track at one point. Five is incredible!” the Sale fly-half said.

“I’ve not kicked three in a game before. We were actually laughing in the changing room afterwards because Danny Care out of the squad was the guy with the most drop-goals for England (three).

“So I thought that’s not right, I need to put an end to that! Maybe that was the meaning behind this win!

“The crucial one was the third one that took us more than seven points ahead. That’s the life of a kicker sometimes. Some days you can’t hit a barn door, some days you can’t miss.

“In a game like this where it was dead greasy, it wasn’t going to be easy to hold the ball, move the ball and score tries. To get more than seven ahead was critical for us.”

Along with his fellow fly-halves Owen Farrell and Marcus Smith, Ford has been drilling drop-goals in training in the knowledge they could prove decisive in tight games at the World Cup.

“Marcus, Owen and myself, after every session we are doing drop goals. It’s part of what we do, it is part of our plan,” Ford said.

“We get the nines to pass us the ball and we get some guys to come over and put pressure on us. So we try and make it as realistic as possible.

“The thing with drop goals is when the opposition least expect it. It is to try and disguise it a little bit then you give yourself a little more time and space and hopefully try and kick it.”

“It’s such a crucial and critical weapon at times, especially when you see how influential they have been at World Cups.

“It’s something we have spoken about a tiny bit more, but the whole plan wasn’t about drop goals, it was just about imposing pressure and trying to come away with points in any way we can.”

Steve Borthwick insists England are determined to deliver more triumphant nights at the World Cup after George Ford kicked them to a stunning 27-10 victory over Argentina in Marseille.

England defied the third minute red card shown to Tom Curry for a dangerous challenge to put one foot in the knockout phase at the expense of their closest rivals in Pool D.

Ford emerged as the architect of the Pumas’ death by a thousand cuts by kicking six penalties and three drop-goals, as well as providing the generalship needed to overcome Curry’s absence.

“I’m really pleased for the supporters around that stadium too – they were absolutely magnificent,” head coach Borthwick said.

“There are tens of thousands of England supporters in France and they are going to follow us around and spend a lot of money to do that.

“We want to make sure they have nights to remember and I think they’ll remember this one.

“All the people back home in their living rooms on their sofas and in the pubs, I hope they had a good night. We hope they’ll have another good night against Japan next Sunday.”

There were heroes across the field and none more so than Ford, who provided the leadership as England threatened to be engulfed by the crisis presented by a fourth red card in six Tests.

The fightback was given impetus through Ford’s early drop-goals and the Sale fly-half believes they can make a difference over the coming weeks.

“It’s a great weapon for us. We know how important and big drop-goals can be at World Cups,” Ford said.

“Just the way the game unfolded, we went a man down quite early but it was greasy, it was difficult to hold the ball for many phases.

“In our heads we wanted to be clinical in terms of coming away with points when we had good field position. But it’s incredibly hard to attack when they’ve got a lot of numbers in the line.”

Argentina boss Michael Cheika admitted it was a frustrating evening for his Pumas, who were shambolic for most of the match.

“Pretty much everything that could go wrong did go wrong. We let the play get too stop-start. England played the circumstances very well and full credit to them,” Cheika said.

“There was almost no play. There were so many stoppages. The play we did get we didn’t master very well. That was by design by the other team. They did it very well.

“They put us in that corner. We’ll take what we need from it and get on with the next game.”

“The World Cup is not over. We still have work to do to qualify. Our players will take a lot from this experience.”

George Ford masterminded a remarkable England victory forged in adversity after Argentina were toppled 27-10 in their World Cup opener despite Tom Curry being sent off in the third minute.

Ford led England out of a crisis created by Curry’s dangerous challenge on Juan Cruz Mallia that resulted in the Sale flanker’s yellow card being upgraded to red by the bunker review system.

Taking command, Ford landed three drop-goals and six penalties as Argentina were kicked into oblivion on a warm night at the Stade Velodrome in what was one of the nation’s greatest acts of defiance on a rugby field.

While the outstanding Sale fly-half was busy steering England around the pitch and keeping the scoreboard ticking over, his team-mates fought themselves to a standstill with Ben Earl and Courtney Lawes magnificent.

It was an ugly spectacle with neither side functioning in attack, but Steve Borthwick’s men showed the character needed to place one foot in the quarter-finals by taking control of Pool D at the expense of their greatest rivals.

A giant stride forward was taken in plugging their leaky defence, but discipline remains a major concern, with Curry set to join Owen Farrell and Billy Vunipola in being banned for periods of the World Cup.

England will argue that Curry was unfortunate to become the country’s first red card at a World Cup – and the fastest in the tournament’s history – despite the clash of heads that came as a result of his tackle.

And when Santiago Carreras was punished with only a sin-binning for clattering late into Ford early on, they had additional cause for grievance.

Once the initial drama of Curry’s dismissal had subsided, England rolled up their sleeves to withstand a battering on their line by Argentina’s pack, winning a penalty that enabled them to clear their lines.

They have often delivered a spirited response when down on numbers and so it was proving in Marseille as a methodical drive downfield ended with Ford landing a drop-goal.

Ford repeated the trick but this time from the halfway line as a monster kick sailed between the uprights with distance to spare.

The glaring deficiencies in England’s attack were apparent as they butchered a four-on-two overlap, but with Ford landing drop-goals at will – he coolly added a third from short range – it did not seem to matter.

Even with Curry sat watching in the stand they built a 12-3 lead, helped by rattled opponents who were also struggling with the ball in hand.

The intensity was cranked up for the second half, forcing a breakdown penalty that Ford inevitably steered between the uprights, while in reply the Pumas squirted the ball forward to end a rare attack.

Manu Tuilagi cut Santiago Chocobares in half with a wince-inducing tackle and with Ford on target from the kicking tee twice in quick succession, it was starting to look bleak for Argentina.

Over went the fifth and then sixth penalties and although the shambolic Pumas finally crossed through Rodrigo Bruni in the closing moments, their fate was already sealed.

George Ford admits England must conduct an uncomfortable inquest into Saturday’s Fiji debacle if they are to halt their freefall in time to make an impression on the World Cup.

Twickenham was stormed 30-22 by the Islanders as England fell to a current tier two nation for the first time in their 152-year history, registering a fifth defeat in six matches.

Fiji’s magnificent victory has heightened the sense of crisis at the Rugby Football Union with the pivotal World Cup opener against Argentina on September just two weeks away.

Even the Pool D fixtures against Japan and Samoa are fraught with danger given the depth of England’s current malaise and Ford insists that only by confronting hard truths will disaster be averted in Marseille.

“We don’t want the benefit of the doubt, we know we haven’t played well enough and know the results haven’t been good enough,” Ford said.

“When you lose for England you understand what’s going to come with it. We’re not shying away from that.

“We’re going to stick together and sort ourselves out in terms of making our preparation as good as it can be for Argentina. I’m comfortable we’ll be in a good place.

“What separates good teams from the great is that when things aren’t going well and you need to front a few things up and be honest, you do that.

“Look it square in the face because you can’t ignore those things – if you do then they will come back to haunt you later on.”

Head coach Steve Borthwick repeatedly highlighted the error count and missed tackles when explaining the nation’s first ever loss to Fiji, whose customary magic in attack was matched by tactical cohesion and smart decision-making.

England started like a freight train with Manu Tuilagi and Ollie Lawrence running on to Ford’s fizzing passes, Jonny May crossing in the left corner and the breakdown being bossed by a high-energy pack.

But as a downpour of heavy rain came and went, Fiji took control to expose a defence that has now conceded 30 tries in nine matches under Borthwick.

In recent weeks England have repeatedly stressed the quality of their training, suggesting the performances on a Saturday were an anomaly, but Ford insists practise has also been sub-par.

“Any time you play for England – especially at Twickenham – you you’ve got to pull out on the right side of the scoreboard and unfortunately we had a lot of errors against Fiji,” Ford said.

“We’re making too many errors. Now what the reason for that is I can’t be sure. Maybe it is a little bit of over eagerness or a little bit of inaccuracy, or maybe it is a little bit of understanding.

“It’s probably a little bit of all of it, to be honest. But one thing for sure is we can’t keep doing it.

“When it comes to our plan for Argentina and our understanding of what we need to do to win that game, we’ll be crystal clear on it. I’m more than confident we’ll be able to get it right for that game.

“We understand that we need to make fewer mistakes. There’s an urgency that we need to fix it and get better.

“The way you do that is to be more consistent in training. We’re clearly not consistent in training, there are probably too many errors in training. We’re playing the way we train at the minute, which is not good enough obviously.”

George Ford insists England’s players must take responsibility for accelerating the team’s development into a force for the World Cup.

Steve Borthwick’s men ended a three-match losing run by defeating Wales 19-17 at Twickenham last Saturday but Ireland, the sport’s number one ranked side, are the next assignment on the schedule of warm-up fixtures.

England have yet to fire since Borthwick replaced Eddie Jones in September but with their pivotal Pool C match against Argentina fast approaching on September 9, Ford knows time is at a premium.

“Along with being led by the coaches, it’s the players’ responsibility to grab hold of the team and pull it in the direction we want to pull it in,” the Sale fly-half said.

“Especially when we have got the ball with that amount of experience and those combinations, we see it as our responsibility to get this team going and we have got to do it quicker than we have ever done it before.

“There are two more warm-up games and then there is the first game of the World Cup so we understand there is an urgency about it, but we are going to grab it.”

Since Borthwick took charge England have managed only 14 tries in seven matches, consistently struggling to finish chances or reflect their visits to the 22 on the scoreboard.

“I know the attack is the most spoken about subject at the minute. Let me reassure you we are working hard on it,” Ford said.

“We want to be more dangerous with the ball and cause more problems for the defence with the ball and score more tries, that’s what we want to do. It’s at the forefront of our minds and we’re working really hard to do it.

“My experience is that of all departments of the game, it takes the longest to get the attack functioning.

“We want to speed it up, we want to get there as quickly as possible. We know there’s an urgency that we need to start attacking better and causing problems and scoring tries – we understand that.

“The main thing is how we can be more potent when we’ve got the ball, how we can get the outside backs in space with the ball to create damage and cause chaos.”

George Ford says England’s players have been teasing Marcus Smith about using rumoured interest from Racing 92 as “leverage” to negotiate his new contract at Harlequins.

Smith this week ensured he will remain available for Test selection for the foreseeable future by agreeing an extended deal with the 2021 Gallagher Premiership champions.

French club Racing, who will be coached by former England boss Stuart Lancaster next season, were reportedly lining up the 24-year-old as a potential replacement for Bath-bound Finn Russell.

“There has been a fair bit of joking going on,” Ford said of his fellow fly-half.

“Whatever the rumours were about Racing a few weeks ago, everyone was saying, ‘you were always going to stay at Quins, you were just using that as a bit of leverage’.

“I’ve spoken to him, obviously he’s delighted to be staying, it’s his club and the influence he has on that team is incredible so I’m sure everyone at Quins will be buzzing for him to stay.

“I can only speak for myself but when you’re English and you want to play for England, you’ve got to play for an English club.

“It means a lot to play at club level and international level for us all, it’s no different for Marcus.”

Ford and Smith are currently working together at England’s Surrey training base as part of a 39-man preliminary World Cup squad.

Steve Borthwick is fine tuning plans for the forthcoming tournament in France, with four warm-up matches scheduled next month.

The head coach was given less than nine months to prepare for the game’s greatest competition after replacing Eddie Jones on December 19.

While Australia, who subsequently appointed Jones in January, and Wales have also recently changed coach, Ford warned England must be the “fastest-learning team” in order to be up to speed in time for their Pool D opener fixture against Argentina on September 9.

Yet the 30-year-old Sale player also believes the situation could prove beneficial.

“I think we’re in a unique place in terms of that,” said Ford, who is preparing for his third successive World Cup. “It’s a great opportunity.

“In terms of the timeframe, we’ve got to be the quickest and fastest-learning team, it’s just the nature of where we’re at.

“At the previous World Cup, we had four years together and it was quite consistent in terms of squad, coaches et cetera but this is a lot different.

“I still think there is a massive opportunity here and one that I don’t think is going to hold us back if we get it right. I think it could be a massive positive for us.

“Sometimes, in a funny way, when you’ve got less time to get somewhere, you’ve got less thinking and less messing around to get there.

“You’ve just got to go and I think that’ll help us as a team.”

Page 1 of 2
© 2023 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.