ENGLAND coach Stuart Lancaster will reward George Ford's fine performance against Samoa with an altogether more taxing mission as the starting fly-half against Australia at Twickenham on Saturday.
Lancaster was so taken with the all-round game of the 21-year-old Bath stand-off that he has already decided to entrust Ford with the same duties in the last match of the Autumn series.
Owen Farrell, England's long-standing No 10, was moved to inside-centre to give an opportunity to Ford, who has been in compelling form for his club. Ford has now usurped his schoolboy friend and age-grade partner in the pecking order.
Lancaster has yet to make a final decision as to who will play at No 12 alongside Ford, but pointed out yesterday, as a 34-man squad assembled at their training base, that he was giving serious consideration to Billy Twelvetrees, who performed well from the bench when replacing Farrell late in the second half.
Ford, though, is seen as the anointed one in the No 10 shirt.
"George has earned the right to start again," Lancaster said. "He has played well enough for that. I felt at the time that it was a good performance and on review it definitely was.
"We could have got a little more field position, but George's execution when we did decide to kick was excellent. He put the ball behind them well. His goal-kicking was good and defensively he was strong in the tackle. George created opportunities and line breaks."
Ford was measured as well as inventive, bold in attack and resolute in defence. He has been the coming thing for a while, and by giving him another start in a high-profile encounter, Lancaster is eager to offer him the chance to lay claim to the shirt ahead of World Cup year.
There are unlikely to be many other changes. Second-row Courtney Lawes is recovering well from the hyper-extended knee he sustained against Samoa and is expected to train on Thursday.
No 8 Billy Vunipola, who made way for Ben Morgan against Samoa and was dropped from the match-day 23, has been ruled out after being concussed in Saracens' match against Northampton on Sunday.
Saints centre Luther Burrell, who limped off towards the end of that game, has declared himself fit and available.
England are leaning towards a recall for Tom Wood in the back-row and whether hooker Dylan Hartley steps back into the starting line-up is the only other real dilemma. (© Daily Telegraph, London)