George Ford will start at fly-half for England in their Rugby World Cup opener against Tonga on Sunday.
Head coach Eddie Jones has opted for an England centre partnership of Owen Farrell, who captains the side, and Manu Tuilagi.
Jones is readying his side to take on a Tonga side he expects to bear all the hallmarks of Pacific Island physicality.
“There’s no doubt Tonga will want to come through the front door, and we want to play a little bit out the back door against them,” Jones said.
“One of the things we’ve used the warm-up games for is to develop an adaptable squad that allows us to have more adaptable tactics, and this one of the options we can use.”
The back row features openside flanker stars Tom Curry and Sam Underhill, Jones’ ‘kamikaze kids’, with the Sale Sharks forward shifting onto the blindside and Billy Vunipola starting at no.8.
Hoping to strike Tonga will some lightning pace, Jones has named a back three of Jonny May, Anthony Watson and Elliot Daly.
“We just feel it’s the best way to play against Tonga – it gives us a number of options in terms of running and kicking and passing,” Jones added.
“We know Tonga are going to be ferocious and full of pride and passion.
“They are a side that if they get a bit of momentum can be very dangerous, and we will need to be on our best on Sunday.”
In the tight five, Mako Vunipola’s has lost his race to recover from a hamstring in time for Sunday’s clash meaning Joe Marler will start at loosehead.
And Courtney Lawes is preferred to George Kruis to partner Maro Itoje in the second row, as Wasps’ sole representative in the England team Joe Launchbury misses out on selection.
England: 15 Elliot Daly, 14 Anthony Watson, 13 Manu Tuilagi, 12 Owen Farrell (capt), 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, 9 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 (capt), 12 Cooper Vuna, 11 Viliami Lolohea, 10 Kurt Morath, 9 Sonatane Takulua; 1 Siegfried ‘Fisiihoi, 2 Sosefo Sakalia, 3 Ben Tameifuna, 4 Sam Lousi, 5 Halaleva Fifita, 6 Sione Kalamafoni, 7 Zane Kapeli, 8 Maama Vaipula
Replacements: 16 Siua Maile, 17 Latu Talakai, 18 Ma’afu Fia, 19 Dan Faleafa, 20 Nasi Manu, 21 Leon Fukofua, 22 James Faiva, 23 Nafo Tu’itavake
For Jones, the start of the tournament in Japan has long been on his horizon since succeeding Stuart Lancaster in 2016.
In the intervening years between the 2015 and 2019 World Cups have been mixed in fortunes for England.
Under Jones, they have claimed claimed two Six Nations titles, swept aside Australia in their own back yard, yet in 2018 recorded their worst finish to a Six Nations since 1987.
Highs and lows which have helped developed the character in the dressing room according to the Australian.
“If you look at what this team’s been through over the past five or six years, they’ve won a lot, they’ve lost a lot, they’ve been through some extraordinarily tough situations and had some great situations,” he said.
“All that accumulated experience probably counts more than caps.
“I feel like I’m at the top of a rollercoaster. You’re excited but you’re also nervous, because you’re not sure how you’re going to handle it.
“I think that’s a really nice way to be, and if you ask any coach or player at this time, they’d have the same mixture of feelings.
“You know that in England it won’t just be rugby fans that’ll be watching these games. It becomes a family event. The responsibility of making sure your country plays with pride and passion is very important.”
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