England vs. Tonga
- What: Rugby World Cup pool C
- When: Sunday 22 September
- Where: Sapporo Dome, Sapporo
- UK start time: 11.15am
- TV coverage: live on ITV
England open their Rugby World Cup pool C campaign against Tonga on Sunday and there are two certainties: Eddie Jones’s side will win and they will be hit hard by the Tongans.
Whether the hits will all be legitimate remains to be seen.
When the two nations first met in the World Cup, in a 1999 pool match, England flanker Richard Hill was on the receiving end of a forearm smash from prop Ngalu Taufo’ou that reduced the Pacific Islanders to 14 men.
Fire and fury
In total the Tongans have had three players red carded in World Cups, the joint highest along with Canada.
They’ve had cooler heads in recent years but any encounter with Tonga is going to be ultra-physical, as England coach Eddie Jones acknowledged on Friday as he unveiled his starting XV.
“We know they are going to be ferocious and full of pride and passion,” said Jones. “They are a side that if they get a bit of momentum they can be very dangerous.”
It’s a sign of how seriously Jones is taking the Tongan threat that he has named a full-strength side. George Ford has been picked at fly-half with captain Owen Farrell partnering Manu Tuilagi in the centre.
Only wing Joe Cokanasiga and second-row George Kruis are missing from the team that annihilated Ireland 57-15 last month – not that England will be much the weaker for their absence.
Anthony Watson replaces the injured Cokanasiga and the equally experienced Courtney Lawes is in for Kruis.
England won that 1999 clash 110-10 (the only other occasion the two countries have met was in the 2007 RWC when England won 36-20) and among the crowd were two small boys, Mako and Billy Vunipola.
They were there to watch their father, Fe’ao, and uncle, Elisi, play for Tonga, and 20 years on they are vital members of the England squad. Mako is currently injured but Billy is at No.8 on Sunday.
“I am Tongan, my parents are and my grandparents are so it will be very emotional just as much as anything else,” said Billy Vunipola. “I have to get my head right and my body right, be the best prepared I can be.”
Pride and passion
Billy Vunipola knows more than his team-mates how the Tongans will motivate themselves going into Sunday’s match.
“They have a lot of pride,” he said. “You can just go back through the history – Tonga has never been colonised and that is probably drip-fed down… they will say all week that we don’t respect them, but we do.
“We respect them a lot, but that gets them going – hopefully we show them more than enough respect in terms of how we play.”
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How the teams will line up on Sunday
England starting XV
- 15 Elliot Daly, 14 Anthony Watson, 13 Manu Tuilagi, 12 Owen Farrell (captain), 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 starting XV
- 15 David Halaifonua, 14 Atieli Pakalani, 13 Siale Piutau (captain), 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 Vaipulu
- Replacements: 16 Siua Maile, 17 Latu Talakai, 18 Ma’afu Fia, 19 Dan Faleafa, 20 Nasi Manu, 21 Leon Fukofuka, 22 James Faiva, 23 Nafi Tu’itavake