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Anything less than a 50-point win for England would be a major surprise - Andy Goode

By Andy Goode
George Ford and Owen Farrell (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)

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.

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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.

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Owen Farrell in South Africa
Owen Farrell

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.

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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 pointing

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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Jon 1 hours ago
Ireland and South Africa share the same player development dilemma

I think the main problem here is the structure of both countries make up. They are going to have very similar.. obstacles(not problems). It will just be part of the evolution of their rugby and they’ll need to find a way to make this versatility more advantageous than specialization. I think South Africa are well on the way to that end already, but Ireland are more likely to have a hierarchical approach and move players around the provinces. Sopoaga is going to be more than good enough to look up one of those available positions for more than a few years I believe though. Morgan would definitely be a more long term outlook. Sacha to me has the natural footwork of a second five. Not everything is about winning, if a team has 3 players that want to play 10s just give them all a good go even if its to the detriment of everyone, this is also about dreams of the players, not just the fans. This is exactly how it would be in an amateur club setting. Ultimately some players just aren’t suited to any one position. The example was of a guy that had size and speed, enough pace to burn, power to drive, and speed to kick and pass long, but just not much else when it came to actual rugby (that matched it). New Zealand has it’s own example with Jordie Barrett and probably shows what Reece Hodge could have been if the game in Australia had any administration. Despite the bigger abundance of talent in NZ, Jordie was provided with consistent time as a fullback, before being ushered in as a second five. Possibly this was due to his blood, and another might not have been as fortunate, but it is what it was, a complete contrast to how Hodge was used in Australia, were he could have had any position he wanted. When it comes down to it though, much like these young fellas, it will be about what they want, and I think you’ll find they’ll be like Hodge and just want to be as valuable to the team as they can and play wherever. It’s not like 63 International Cap is a hard thing to live with as a result of that decision!

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f
finn 10 hours ago
Ireland and South Africa share the same player development dilemma

What a difference 9 months makes! Last autumn everyone was talking about how important versatile bench players were to SA’s WC win, now we’re back to only wanting specialists? The timing of this turn is pretty odd when you consider that some of the best players on the pitch in the SA/Ireland match were Osbourne (a centre playing out of position at 15), Feinberg-Mngomezulu (a fly-half/centre playing out of position at 15), and Frawley (a utility back). Having specialists across the backline is great, but its not always necessary. Personally I think Frawley is unlikely to displace Crowley as first choice 10, but his ability to play 12 and 15 means he’s pretty much guaranteed to hold down a spot on the bench, and should get a decent amount of minutes either at the end of games or starting when there are injuries. I think Willemse is in a similar boat. Feinberg-Mngomezulu possibly could become a regular starter at 10 for the Springboks, but he might not, given he’d have to displace Libbok and Pollard. I think its best not to put all your eggs in one basket - Osbourne played so well at the weekend that he will hopefully be trusted with the 15 shirt for the autumn at least, but if things hadn’t gone well for him he could have bided his time until an opportunity opened up at centre. Similarly Feinberg-Mngomezulu is likely to get a few opportunities at 15 in the coming months due to le Roux’s age and Willemse’s injury, but given SA don’t have a single centre aged under 30 its likely that opportunities could also open up at 12 if he keeps playing there for Stormers. None of this will discount him from being given gametime at 10 - in the last RWC cycle Rassie gave a start at 10 to Frans Steyn, and even gave de Klerk minutes there off the bench - but it will give him far more opportunities for first team rugby.

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