Farrell leads England against Tonga in Rugby
SAPPORO, Japan (AFP) — England have paid Tonga the compliment of selecting their strongest available side for the teams’ World Cup Pool C opener at the Sapporo Dome on Sunday.
Owen Farrell leads a team featuring 13 of the 15 that started in a record 57-15 thrashing of Ireland at Twickenham last month, with only wing Joe Cokanasiga and lock George Kruis missing.
Farrell leads the team from center alongside powerhouse midfielder Manu Tuilagi with the Leicester duo of Ben Youngs, who will be winning his 90th England cap, and George Ford the half-backs.
Cokanasiga, passed fit following a knee injury, was not even able to win a place on the bench with Anthony Watson on the right wing in a back three featuring fullback Elliot Daly and left wing Jonny May.
Up front, Joe Marler, who only came out of international retirement in July, starts at loosehead prop while Mako Vunipola continues his recovery from a hamstring injury.
The one surprise pick made by coach Eddie Jones sees Courtney Lawes preferred at lock instead of Kruis, who is on the bench.
“He’s in good form at the moment. He’s moving very well. We think he’s very suited to play against the Tongans,” Jones said of Lawes at a news conference in Sapporo after announcing his side. Billy Vunipola, the son of a Tongan father, starts at No 8 in a back-row featuring two natural openside flankers in Tom Curry and Sam Underhill.
With an average age of 26 years and 170 days, England’s starting XV are the second youngest side by twelve days they have fielded in a Rugby World Cup match.
Meanwhile the 21-year-old Curry will become the youngest forward to play for England at a Rugby World Cup.
“It is what it is,” said Jones. “This is the best squad we’ve got for England. I’m not concerned about any lack of experience.”
England’s only two previous meetings with Tonga, both at the World Cup, saw them thrash the Pacific islanders 101-10 at Twickenham in 1999 and win 36-20 in Paris in 2007.
Nevertheless, Jones remains wary of a Tonga side coached by Toutai Kefu — who played under him when he was the coach of Australia — even though they suffered a 92-7 hammering by New Zealand in a warmup match earlier this month.
England’s rugby players Mark Wilson, left, and Lewis Ludlam train ahead of their Rugby World Cup match against Tonga in Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan, Thursday.