England have paid Tonga the compliment of selecting their strongest available side for the teams’ World Cup Pool C opener at the Sapporo Dome on Sunday.
Owen Farrell leads a team featuring 13 of the 15 that started in a record 57-15 thrashing of Ireland at Twickenham last month, with only wing Joe Cokanasiga and lock George Kruis missing.
Farrell leads the team from centre alongside powerhouse midfielder Manu Tuilagi with the Leicester duo of Ben Youngs, who will be winning his 90th England cap, and George Ford the half-backs.
Cokanasiga, passed fit following a knee injury, was not even able to win a place on the bench with Anthony Watson on the right wing in a back three featuring fullback Elliot Daly and left wing Jonny May.
Up front, Joe Marler, who only came out of international retirement in July, starts at loosehead prop while Mako Vunipola continues his recovery from a hamstring injury.
The one surprise pick made by coach Eddie Jones sees Courtney Lawes preferred at lock instead of Kruis, who is on the bench.
Billy Vunipola, the son of a Tongan father, starts at No 8 in a back-row featuring two natural openside flankers in Tom Curry and Sam Underhill.
England’s only two previous meetings with Tonga, both at the World Cup, saw them thrash the Pacific islanders 101-10 at Twickenham in 1999 and win 36-20 in Paris in 2007.
Nevertheless, Jones remains wary of a Tonga side coached by Toutai Kefu — who played under him when he was the coach of Australia — even though they suffered a 92-7 hammering by reigning world champions New Zealand in a warm-up match earlier this month.
“The focus this week has been about getting right for Tonga,” said Jones.
“We have had a good seven days in Japan where we have acclimatised really well,” the former Japan coach added.
“Our sleep patterns are good and the physical conditioning of the players is outstanding. We have been able to add a bit more on our team togetherness and cohesion too.
“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 that if they get a bit of momentum they can be very dangerous and are well-coached by Toutai Kefu.
“They have a great World Cup record and we will need to be at our best on Sunday.
Elliot Daly; Anthony Watson, Manu Tuilagi, Owen Farrell (capt), Jonny May; George Ford, Ben Youngs; Billy Vunipola, Sam Underhill, Tom Curry; Maro Itoje, Courtney Lawes; Kyle Sinckler, Jamie George, Joe Marler
Replacements: Luke Cowan-Dickie, Ellis Genge, Dan Cole, George Kruis, Lewis Ludlam, Willi Heinz, Henry Slade, Jonathan Joseph