Lewis Ludlam gets nod ahead of Billy Vunipola to start for England against Japan
Ludlam has been rewarded for his defensive masterclass as a replacement in the 27-10 rout of Argentina on Saturday.
Lewis Ludlam has edged Billy Vunipola in the battle for England’s number eight jersey for Sunday’s World Cup clash with Japan.
Vunipola has completed his two-match suspension for a dangerous tackle against Ireland last month but the hard-carrying Saracen is limited to a bench role only for the Stade de Nice showdown.
Instead, Ludlam has been rewarded for his defensive masterclass as a replacement in the 27-10 rout of Argentina on Saturday by filling the hole in the back row created by Tom Curry’s suspension, also for an illegal challenge.
Ben Earl switches from number eight to openside to accommodate the return of Ludlam, who played every minute of this year’s Six Nations and has been one of England’s most consistent performers of recent times.
The Northampton skipper’s elevation above the less mobile Vunipola is a nod to Japan’s high tempo tactics, which assistant coach Kevin Sinfield has compared to Barcelona’s tiki-taka style of football.
Two further changes in personnel have been made in the front row where Kyle Sinckler and Joe Marler displace Dan Cole and Ellis Genge as starting props.
Sinckler has recovered from the pectoral injury that limited his game time during the warm-up Tests and prevented him from facing the Pumas in the Pool D opener in Marseille.
Steve Borthwick has retained the same backline that featured against Argentina with George Ford given another opportunity to argue his case for being viewed as first choice fly-half.
Owen Farrell completes his four-match ban – once again for a dangerous tackle – versus Japan and becomes available for the last two group matches against Chile and Samoa, forcing Borthwick to make a difficult call at 10.
England will march on to a place in the quarter-finals if they topple Japan, who are not the dynamic force that captured hearts and minds at the last World Cup when they reached the knockout phase for the first time.
Having risen to tier-one status, they have now slipped to 14th in the global rankings but at least opened the tournament with a thumping 42-12 victory over Chile.
“It was both pleasing and important that we were able to start our World Cup campaign with a good win against Argentina last Saturday,” Borthwick said.
“It was incredible to see so many of our supporters in the stadium in Marseille. Their support means a great deal to the team. We hope that we were able to provide the supporters both here in France and at home with some great memories, and we are setting out to do the same again this Sunday in Nice.
“After another good week’s preparation in Le Touquet, we are looking forward to the challenge of playing a Japan side that will be full of confidence following their comprehensive win over Chile in their opening fixture of the competition.”