Eddie Jones has selected his strongest available side for England’s Rugby World Cup opener against Tonga.
The England head coach has reverted almost entirely to the XV that sent Ireland spinning to a record defeat at Twickenham last month, with only Joe Cokanasiga and George Kruis missing from that team.
The midfield that engineered a 57-15 victory that day is back with George Ford chose at fly-half and playing inside a centre duo of captain Owen Farrell and Manu Tuilag
Cokanasiga has been struggling with a knee injury and despite being passed fit by the England management, is unable to even win a place on the bench for Sunday’s clash at the Sapporo Dome, which kicks off at 11.15am UK time.
Instead, Anthony Watson has been given the chance to continue his strong form of the warm-up Tests by starting on the right wing, with Jonny May and Elliot Daly completing the back three.
Providing three-quarter cover on the bench is Jonathan Joseph and Henry Slade, both of whom have overcome knee injuries to take part.
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’s presence at lock, with Kruis settling for a place on the bench.
Making a 10th successive appearance at number eight is Billy Vunipola. 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.
“The focus this week has been about getting right for Tonga. We have had a good seven days in Japan where we have acclimatised really well,” Jones said.
“Our sleep patterns are good and the physical conditioning of the players is outstanding. We have been able to add a bit more on our team togetherness and cohesion too.
“Now it is about putting in a game plan against Tonga and it is important to be tactically right. We know they are going to be ferocious and full of pride and passion.
“They are a side that if they get a bit of momentum they can be very dangerous and are well-coached by Toutai Kefu.
“They have a great World Cup record and we will need to be at our best on Sunday.
“I don’t think there is anyone who isn’t excited about getting out there on Sunday and there is a good feeling around the place.
“We are delighted to be up here in Sapporo and to play at the stadium will be a unique experience for us and something the team is looking forward to.”
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England team to play Tonga:
E Daly (Saracens); A Watson (Bath), M Tuilagi (Leicester), O Farrell (Saracens, capt), J May (Leicester); G Ford (Leicester), B Youngs (Leicester); J Marler (Harlequins), J George (Saracens), K Sinckler (Harlequins), C Lawes (Northampton); M Itoje (Saracens), T Curry (Sale), S Underhill (Bath), B Vunipola (Saracens).
Replacements: L Cowan-Dickie (Exeter), E Genge (Leicester), D Cole (Leicester), G Kruis (Saracens), L Ludlam (Northampton), W Heinz (Gloucester), H Slade (Exeter), J Joseph (Bath).