Rugby World Cup
George Ford faces battle to keep England's No.10 shirt from Owen Farrell
Tom Hamilton
September 2, 2015
© David Rogers/Getty Images

The battle to be England's first choice fly-half for the Rugby World Cup is heating up with Stuart Lancaster saying it is a tight call between George Ford and Owen Farrell for who will wear the No.10 jersey against Fiji.

They are the only two fly-halves remaining in the 31-man squad and Ford gets the chance to impress against Ireland on Saturday from the outset.

Ford was England's first choice No.10 in the Six Nations, a championship Farrell missed through injury, but there is still a chance the Saracens man could start ahead of Ford for England's opener on Sep. 18.

Farrell is on the bench for Saturday's match against Ireland but Lancaster has been impressed with his form and he could yet pip Ford for the World Cup.

"It's tight," Lancaster said of the race for the No.10 shirt.

"George is in position at the moment but Owen has been training exceptionally well. He is back to his very best for me. His defence, his game management and his attacking game have been the best I've seen it. He is pushing hard.

"That's a good position to be in when we have George as well who is such a good player. They are such good mates. They push, help and support each other in the same way as Alex Goode will be trying to help Mike Brown. It is positive competition."

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Lancaster added: "We've a lot of faith in George because he has been exceptional for us but this is another big game for him because Ireland have a very good kicking game and our kicking game needs to be spot on."

Ford and Farrell know each other well having played in the England age-grade sides from 2008 onwards.

Though they are friends off the field, the rivalry spurs each other on in what Ford says is a squad where the competition for places is like nothing he has experienced before.

"We are so competitive and we both want to start," Ford said of the battle with Farrell. "We both want to be as good players as we can be. Ultimately if you asked him the same question, it's for the good of the team.

"Everyone wants to start but the good thing about this squad is that there are no selfish players in this squad. The players not playing will give those playing the best opportunity to do well.

"Owen is constantly going out there and trying to be a better player. He's a great trainer and leader in the team. He goes out there and plays consistently well and I see that as a positive. I have to raise my game. That's a great position to be in. You always want someone pushing you."

Ford will be lining up alongside a new-look centre partnership for England. The Brad Barritt-Jonathan Joseph axis is the 13th different combination of the Stuart Lancaster era and the England coach is expecting them to hit the ground running at Twickenham on Saturday.

"We should expect a strong performance from both," Lancaster said. "They are both high-quality players. If Brad had been fit for the Six Nations he would have started alongside JJ on the back of what he'd done in the autumn straight up but he wasn't so Luther got his chance.

"That combination of Ford, Barritt and Joseph have trained together consistently against Farrell, Burrell and Slade for two weeks now. It's not as if we have suddenly put them together on Saturday. There has been a lot of work done together on the training field. Obviously that has to translate into a game.

"When you have two quality players with the work we have done you should be confident they will be cohesive."

And while the fly-half pecking order is still to be ironed out, so are the hookers. Tom Youngs starts against Ireland and is seemingly still first choice ahead of the World Cup but Jamie George has been preferred to Rob Webber for the replacement option ahead of Saturday's Test.

Lancaster says George has a chance to impress but there are no guarantees he is now ahead of Webber.

"Webber has done very well in camp and there are no problems with him," Lancaster said.

"Our conversation with him was that he is not in third position because Jamie is on the bench but we want to give Jamie another chance because he is a young player and has not had too much international experience but Rob is in a good place as well."

© Tom Hamilton

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