Rugby World Cup 2019: England v Tonga

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Eddie Jones stressed the importance of England getting their tactics spot on against a "ferocious" Tonga outfit in their Rugby World Cup opener on Sunday.

After a group-stage exit at the last World Cup, England go into their tournament bow in Sapporo expected to be among the top challengers to holders New Zealand this time around.

The 2003 champions won three of their four warm-up matches after coming second in the Six Nations and will contest a competitive Pool C that contains Argentina, France and United States as well as their initial opponents.

"The focus this week has been about getting right for Tonga," head coach Jones said ahead of the match.

"We have had a good seven days in Japan where we have acclimatised really well. Now it is about putting in a game plan against Tonga and it is important to be tactically right. We know they are going to be ferocious and full of pride and passion. 

"They are a side if they get a bit of momentum they can be very dangerous and are well-coached by Toutai Kefu. We will need to be at our best.

"There is a good feeling about the place - I don't think there is anyone who isn't excited about getting out there."

George Ford will start at fly-half for England, with Owen Farrell captain at inside centre. Joe Marler is at loose-head prop with Mako Vunipola out.

Billy Vunipola, though, will line up against Tonga 20 years after his father and uncle represented the Pacific islanders against England in a World Cup contest.

This will be the third meeting between the teams, with the previous two – both at World Cups – having been won by England in convincing fashion with a combined score of 137-30.

England are looking for a seventh straight win in a Rugby World Cup opener and have not lost one since a defeat to New Zealand back in 1991.

The omens do not look great for Tonga, who have won only three of their last 10 World Cup encounters and come into the event with just one win from their last seven Test outings.

Distinguished former Australia international Kefu leads a squad that retains only four of the 23 players who lined up in their last World Cup match against New Zealand in 2015.

One of that quartet is Kurt Morath, the country's all-time leading points scorer with 340 and one of seven English-based players in the team. 

Key front-rower and the heaviest player in World Cup history, Ben Tameifuna, returns to the XV after being rested from a chastening 92-7 loss to the All Blacks two weeks ago.
 

PLAYERS TO WATCH

England – Ben Youngs 

Ben Youngs, 30, will earn his 90th cap and become the first scrum-half to play in three World Cups for England.

His experience will be vital with England naming a XV that is their second-youngest ever at a World cup, including flankers Tom Curry and Sam Underhill. Youngs scored a try in his last Test outing against Italy this month.

Tonga - Nasi Manu

Nasi Manu has been named among Tonga's replacements and if he takes to the field it will be an emotional moment. The number eight did not play for club Benetton or his country in 2018 and could play his first Test since recovering from cancer, having undergone months of chemotherapy.

"I had tears just then," he said after Tonga's welcome ceremony. "I don't think anybody knows just how much I have been through to get here. Not only the surgery and chemotherapy, but also the physical battle to get myself in good enough shape." 


KEY OPTA FACTS

- England have won only two of their last five games at Rugby World Cups, including a 60-3 triumph over Uruguay in their most recent fixture.

- England have surpassed 40 points scored in a game on three occasions thus far in 2019; the last time they did so more times in a calendar year was in 2003 (7), including two instances in their triumphant 2003 campaign.

- No player has scored more Test tries thus far in 2019 than England flyer Jonny May, whose six tries are level with German Kessler Lordon (Uruguay) and Joe Taufete'e (USA).

- Siale Piutau's next appearance will be his 40th in Test rugby for Tonga, becoming just the fourth Tongan to reach the mark.

- Kurt Morath (73) has scored more points at the Rugby World Cup than any other player for Tonga, including a 28-point haul during the group stage of the 2015 tournament.