Preview: England v Tonga

Eddie Jones has been talking all week about how England must prepare for the roller-coaster ride that is a Rugby World Cup.

Eddie Jones has been talking all week about how England must prepare for the roller-coaster ride that is a Rugby World Cup.

They are looking over the precipice right now, and Tonga present the first thrill of what they hope will be a seven-week and seven-game journey to the promised land.

Four years ago, England were thrown off their own ride in the pool stages, but this time around Jones’ side are building for a campaign that is intended to go into November and Yokohama’s showpiece final.

With momentum in mind therefore, Jones has named an England side that looks, on paper at the very least, at near-enough full strength.

Mako Vunipola and Jack Nowell are still not fit while Courtney Lawes’ physicality earns him a start ahead of George Kruis in the engine room alongside Maro Itoje.

But elsewhere, in what is the second youngest England side ever named at a World Cup, they are fully locked and loaded.

Owen Farrell will dovetail with George Ford with Manu Tuilagi bringing the noise at outside centre, Tom Curry and Sam Underhill are again paired in the back row and Jamie George, Joe Marler and Kyle Sinckler make an all-British & Irish Lions front row.

It is a seriously mobile pack, suggesting that England will look to go around their Tongan opponents rather than through them.

By contrast, Tonga are missing two of their big names in Telusa Veainu and Steve Mafi but have a World Cup legend in Toutai Kefu at the helm.

Kefu’s head-to-head record against Jones as head coach is 1-0 in the former Aussie No.8’s favour, his Tongan side downed Japan before the last World Cup.

But the Pacific Islanders have struggled in 2019, they have a solitary Test win from five outings – beating Canada last month.

They will at least know what they are up against on Sunday, after all six of the players in their starting XV ply their trade domestically in England including skipper Siale Piutau of the Bristol Bears and Cooper Vuna of Bath.

England v Tonga, Sunday September 22, Sapporo, Kick off 11:15AM (BST)

England head coach Eddie Jones: “Physically, I haven’t seen the side better and we have a really tight squad. At the moment, we are at the top of the roller-coaster and everyone is excited, and you get down to the bottom and you are not quite sure if you are going to throw up or hang on.

England captain Owen Farrell: “I did some kicking (at the stadium) and had a look around. The pitch was brilliant, like a carpet, and being indoors it looks like it will be a brilliant atmosphere.”

Tonga skipper Siale Piutau: “They (England) have class players all around the pitch and we expect them to play with pace. They have threats all over the park. I’m not giving away tactics, but there will be opportunities for us.”

Sonatane Takulua is the beating heart of this Tonga side.

He kicks the goal, he directs traffic and, in their most recent Test victory against Canada, he scored the tries as well.

He will be familiar to an English audience for his club efforts with Newcastle Falcons and for his enormous calves.

Ben Youngs makes history for England opposite Takulua.

He becomes the first No.9 to represent England at three Rugby World Cups and will hope he is rounding into top form just at the right time.

England: 15. Elliot Daly, 14. Anthony Watson, 13. Manu Tuilagi, 12. Owen Farrell, 11. Jonny May, 10. George Ford, 9. Ben Youngs, 1. Joe Marler, 2. Jamie George, 3. Kyle Sinckler, 4. Courtney Lawes, 5. Maro Itoje, 6. Tom Curry, 7. Sam Underhill, 8. Billy Vunipola

Replacements: 16. Luke Cowan-Dickie, 17. Ellis Genge, 18. Dan Cole, 19. George Kruis, 20. Lewis Ludlam, 21. Willi Heinz, 22. Henry Slade, 23. Jonathan Joseph

Tonga: 15. David Halaifonua, 14. Atieli Pakalani, 13. Siale Piutau, 12. Cooper Vuna, 11. Viliami Lolohea, 10. Kurt Morath, 9. Sonatane Takulua, 1. Siegfried Fisihoi, 2. Sosefo Sakalia, 3. Ben Tameifuna, 4. Sam Lousi, 5. Leva Fifita, 6. Sione Kalamafoni, 7. Zane Kapeli, 8. Maama Vaipulu

Replacements: 16. Siua Maile, 17. Latu Talakai, 18. Ma’afu Fia, 19. Daniel Faleafa, 20. Nasi Manu, 21. Leon Fukofuka, 22. James Faiva, 23. Nafi Tuitavake