Ben Youngs handed big chance as England make changes for Samoa clash
- Credit: PA
England head coach Stuart Lancaster defended his selection of Owen Farrell after the out-of-form half-back was moved to inside-centre for the QBE International against Samoa at Twickenham on Saturday.
George Ford is handed his first start at number 10 with Farrell moved inside as one of six changes to the team that were beaten 31-28 by South Africa last week, including Norfolk star Ben Youngs replacing Danny Care at scrum-half.
Farrell has come under fire for his performances this autumn with some asking questions of his fitness, but he has survived another week and moves to the position he filled in the first two games of his international career in 2012 when he also partnered Brad Barritt in midfield.
And after two narrow defeats to New Zealand and the Springboks, Lancaster was quick to defend the man who has been his main pivot since he took the reins.
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'I don't think Owen was to blame for either performance really,' he told Sky Sports.
'Overall, collectively, we didn't get the wins that we hoped. We weren't a million miles away but we didn't get them. It's one we've wanted to look at. We looked in Italy at the end of the Six Nations from the bench.
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'Owen's a great communicator, a great leader, a great option for us and also support for George.'
Farrell and Ford played together for England at age group level and helped the under-20s reach the final of the 2011 Junior World Championship.
And while Lancaster expects Farrell to offer Ford support, he has encouraged the Bath man to 'take the lead' in his first start.
'It's a big step for George to come into this environment and this team but equally it's about George, if I'm being honest,' he said. 'It's about George taking control and running the ship the way he wants to run it.
'He's a confident player. Having been in camp for two-and-a-half weeks now I think he's ready to take the lead, to take the lead role and I'm sure he'll do it well.'
Lancaster has also overhauled his back row with James Haskell replacing Tom Wood at blindside flanker and Ben Morgan promoted from the bench to start at number eight. Captain Chris Robshaw is the only survivor in that department.
Wood must settle for a substitute's role against Samoa and the final change sees hooker Rob Webber swap roles with Dylan Hartley, who drops to the bench after receiving a brainless yellow card against the Springboks.
'The team that played against New Zealand deserved a second chance,' Lancaster said. 'I thought that whilst some players improved on the previous performance there were one or two areas where I felt it wasn't quite as good as I would have hoped and as a consequence it gets a chance to look at other players.
'Ben Morgan is probably a good case in point and George Ford as well. Rob Webber is probably the other one, he's waited patiently, he's been excellent in training and he gets his chance.'
He added: 'I think James Haskell deserves a chance to start, he's been excellent for Wasps this season. He brings a different kind of game than Tom and it's one that we wanted to look at in the short and the medium term.'
England will be heavy favourites against Samoa as they look to snap a five-game losing streak ahead facing Australia in the final game of the autumn series.
England XV: M Brown; A Watson, B Barritt, O Farrell, J May; G Ford, B Youngs; J Marler, R Webber, D Wilson, D Attwood, C Lawes, J Haskell, C Robshaw, B Morgan. Replacements: D Hartley, M Mullan, K Brookes, G Kruis, T Wood, R Wigglesworth, B Twelvetrees, M Yarde.