Eddie Jones has gone full noise with his selection for England’s opening game and I fully expect them to win by 50 against Tonga.
I might be called an arrogant Englishman for saying that but England’s attack has really started to click back into gear in recent weeks and Tonga had 92 points put on them against New Zealand a couple of weeks ago, so I think it’s a fair assessment.
The likes of Siale Piutau, Cooper Vuna, Tane Takulua, Sione Kalamafoni and even David Halaifonua do have genuine individual ability, as we’ve seen in the Premiership, but I don’t think they have what it takes as a collective to worry England.
There will be linebreaks and try-scoring opportunities as some of the individuality comes to the fore but there isn’t the structure that’s necessary to really hurt the men in white over the course of 80 minutes with fitness also coming into it later on in the game.
They will be competitive and have their moments during the game, of course, but things will have to go drastically wrong for England for them to have any chance of winning.
With England having their two easiest pool games first, it’s important to notch up two bonus point victories and get that feel-good factor going.
I really like the fact that Eddie’s gone so strong from the start but I don’t think it’s a completely first choice side as some have suggested. I still think Owen Farrell will return to fly half for the big games and we’ll see the likes of George Kruis and Mark Wilson in there as well.
We know Tonga are going to fly up in defence and try to make some big hits and I think the selection of George Ford and Farrell together is aimed at picking off that rush defence.
It’s a formula worked spectacularly well against Ireland and I expect it to fire again but it’s interesting to see them paired together when they are the only two boina fide fly halves in the squad and one of them will surely have to start against USA as well.
Of course, Tonga will be targeting that 10/12 channel in defence. Every team does but especially with Ford and Farrell offering less in terms of physicality than Farrell and Tuilagi, for example.
There’s no doubt that defence is the weaker part of Ford’s game and he’ll need his back row and others to give him some protection against some of the massive units he’ll be coming up against but he’s a quality player and I think we’ll see a big performance from him.
It’s great to see Tom Curry and Sam Underhill starting together again in the back row and there is a chance that they might get the nod as a combination at six and seven in the tougher tests to come.
The selection of two opensides has proven successful for Australia with Michael Hooper and David Pocock and the All Blacks to an extent as well with Ardie Savea and Sam Cane. I still think England’s number six shirt belongs to Mark Wilson at the moment though.
He was player of the series in the autumn, shone again in the Six Nations and had seven carries, 49 metres made, five defenders beaten and 27 tackles to his name against Italy in Newcastle in the final warm-up game, so he’s a man in form.
Billy Vunipola has started all four warm-up games and starts again in this one and, with no other out-and-out number eight in the squad, Wilson might just be pencilled in to fill in at the base of the scrum against the USA.
Billy will be glad he’s got the start in this one as well. He got married in Tonga in the summer and is hugely proud of his Tongan heritage. His dad Fe’ao played for Tonga at the 1995 and 1999 World Cups and it’ll be a special day for the family but he’ll only have eyes on an England win.
This might be the second youngest starting XV England have ever named at a World Cup and some people have made a bit of a meal out of that but when you look at the names in there and the experience some of them have in terms of caps as well, it really isn’t a concern at all.
Tom Curry has taken to international rugby like a duck to water and the rest have plenty of nous and experience to go around. Quite a few have been on a British & Irish Lions tour.
You’d expect 13 or 14 changes to the starting XV for the game against the USA four days after this one but momentum is big in World Cups and it’s great to see such a strong team put out first up to get the campaign off to the best possible start.
England will be desperate to make a statement. Realistically, Tonga have got no chance of beating England and anything less than a 50-point margin of victory would be a surprise for me.
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