Eddie Jones has declared that England are ready for the twists and turns of the World Cup rollercoaster after opting to face Tonga with all guns blazing.
Jones has selected his strongest available starting XV to take on the big-hitting Islanders in Sunday’s opener at the Sapporo Dome by making only two changes to the side that overwhelmed Ireland last month.
The midfield that engineered a record 57-15 victory at Twickenham is back with George Ford picked at fly-half and playing inside a centre duo of captain Owen Farrell and Manu Tuilagi.
Only lock George Kruis and wing Joe Cokanasiga are missing with Courtney Lawes preferred in the second row and Anthony Watson lining up on the right wing.
With his side for the opening encounter of England’s title quest now chosen, Jones turned his attention towards what awaits in Japan over the coming weeks.
“The players have worked hard. Physically I haven’t seen them any better and off the field they’ve worked really hard to be a tight team,” the Australian head coach said.
“And that’s going to be tested in the World Cup because the World Cup is like a rollercoaster.
“We are at the top of the ride now and we are looking down – everyone’s nervous, everyone’s excited.
“You go down the first slope and you’re not sure if you are going to throw up or hang on.
“You’ve got to adapt to that and the players have equipped themselves to ride the rollercoaster because there’s going to be some turns, there’s going to be some accidents, there’s going to be some fun.
“We want to enjoy all of those things that come along and the team’s equipped to handle it.”
Cokanasiga has been struggling with a knee injury and despite being passed fit by the England management, he is unable to even win a place on the bench.
Instead, Watson is given the chance to continue the strong form he showed during the warm-up Tests to form one third of a rapid back three that also features Jonny May and Elliot Daly completing the back three.
Explaining Cokanasiga’s absence, Jones said: “It’s because of a combination of factors.
“We feel that Anthony Watson this week is the right player to play against Tonga. Joe will definitely have an opportunity further down the track.”
Providing threequarter cover on the bench is Jonathan Joseph and Henry Slade, both of whom have overcome knee injuries to take part in the Sapporo opener.
Slade was unable to play a single minute of the four warm-up Tests but the Exeter playmaker is finally ready for his comeback as England look to launch the tournament with a statement performance.
Mako Vunipola is close to returning from a hamstring injury so his deputy Joe Marler is preferred at loosehead prop and the only surprise pick up-front is Courtney Lawes’ presence at lock with Kruis settling for a place on the bench.
Making a 10th successive appearance at number eight is Billy Vunipola and either side of the big Saracen of Tongan heritage are flankers Tom Curry and Sam Underhill. Both are natural opensides but it is Curry who starts at six.
Tonga were flattened 92-7 by New Zealand in a recent warm-up match but Jones
“That game was played in Hamilton two weeks before the World Cup. This is Sapporo now. We’ve got the greatest respect for Tonga as a World Cup opponent,” Jones said.
“They’re completely different opposition with a different mindset, just like we’ve got a different mindset from the warm-up games.
“If you look at them historically, Tonga has punched above their weight at every World Cup and we are anticipating a ferocious battle on Sunday.
“We want to take them on. We are England and we want to take them on up front so no one will come out of there guessing.”
Provided by Press Association Sport
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