Last night as the country was thinking about going to bed for the evening news reports broke across social media. The call, predicted, is that England will completely reshuffle their midfield to face Wales this weekend with Owen Farrell, Sam Burgess and Brad Barritt starting in place of George Ford and the injured Jonathan Joseph.
As I've said countless times selection is a highly subjective topic, one man's starter in another's bench warmer and visa versa. That said, normally you have an inkling as to what is to come however if these reports are true then this is one that I did not see coming, at all.
The area of most surprise is the dropping of George Ford in place of Owen Farrell. Since his debut against Samoa in the autumn Ford has led the shape of England's attack and managed games with prowess and intelligence. Ford's flat to the line approach has, on countless occasions, given England the front foot advantage they require and been the catalyst for try after try. The numbers speak for themselves, England have only been outscored in terms of tries once since he has started and have won 8 out of the 10 games with Ford in the middle. Now we all know that rugby is a team game however in the same manner the 10 is the linchpin for everything, without a truly dominant one everything becomes wobbly, just ask Italy! In terms of his replacement, Owen Farrell is a great fly half himself; competitive, hardy, accurate and intense however with the absence of the ball playing Jonathan Joseph I worry England's approach won't have enough flair to fox the organised Welsh defence. Ford's rugby brain and vision is second to none and would be greatly missed at Twickenham Stadium on Saturday night.
Clearly with Jonathan Joseph picking up a knock against Fiji a change has been enforced however from where I am sitting outside of camp I don't believe that George Ford has done anything to warrant his release from the starting XV. The Fiji game wasn't England's best performance, as a whole, Ford was no different to any other that started on Friday night, he performed his job with the expertise and authority that we have come to expect from the Bath man but didn't reach fifth gear.
Sam Burgess' inclusion in the centres, alongside Brad Barritt, points to England's decision to play hard ball and take the 'ultra direct' route. We all know about Warren Ball and now it looks like England have decided that the best approach is to beat them at their own game. The other permutations were to bring in Henry Slade as a like for like replacement for Jonathan Joseph and leave Brad Barritt where he is most comfortable, at inside centre. I can only assume that the choice to not do this was due to Slade's lack of experience and more diminutive stature than Sam Burgess however again if it was my call I'm not sure if I would have done the same.
Without a doubt, if confirmed, this decision to recalibrate England's midfield ahead of the Welsh World Cup challenge will be the largest made by England's management since taking over in 2012. From my position on the outside I hope there is plenty that I haven't seen to warrant this combination being a potent one and one that can act as the fulcrum for an English victory over the Welsh. Until tomorrow then...