Rugby World Cup: England coach Eddie Jones relishing Tonga opener

Tom Curry and Sam Underhill of England in training
Tom Curry (left) and Sam Underhill will play at blind-side and open-side respectively
2019 Rugby World Cup: England v Tonga
Venue: Sapporo Dome, Sapporo Date: Sunday, 22 September Kick-off: 11:15 BST
Coverage: Full commentary on BBC Radio 5 Live and online, live text commentary on BBC Sport website and app and live on ITV.

England will start their World Cup campaign desperate to improve on the disappointments of the last two tournaments as they take on Tonga on Sunday.

Four years on from becoming the first host nation to go out of a World Cup at the group stage and eight from a scandal-hit campaign in New Zealand, Eddie Jones' team begin this one with a semi-final place as the minimum expectation.

Jones took Australia to the final in 2003 and helped coach South Africa to glory in 2007, his four years of coaching England culminating in the next month and a half.

He said: "World Cups are always emotional. You get to do something that is pretty special.

"To coach a nation and to be responsible for a nation at a World Cup, where you know it's not just rugby fans watching.

"Families watch World Cups, that's the difference. It becomes an event for the country, rather than an event for rugby followers.

"It becomes an event for this country here. To be involved in that is a real honour.

"That's the amazing thing about World Cups. You are playing seven rugby games so it's no different than anything else, but it is in extraordinary circumstances."

Jones has opted to pick George Ford at fly-half and Owen Farrell at inside-centre for the game in the Sapporo Dome, with the team's next fixture against the USA in Kobe just four days later.

He has also gone for the youthful combination of Tom Curry at blind-side and Sam Underhill at open-side, a pairing he described as England's "kamikaze twins" during their World Cup warm-up matches.

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Farrell, who will captain the side as scrum-half Ben Youngs wins his 90th cap, played at 10 during this season's Six Nations but says he is happy to reignite his old partnership with Ford.

Farrell told BBC Radio 5 Live: "It's not like you change a player completely by putting a different shirt number on.

"I've obviously known George for a long time, but I've known a lot of these lads for a long time.

"We feel like we've got a brilliant squad here, with a lot of talent and a lot of cohesion - hopefully we keep growing and we keep improving right up to Sunday and beyond."

England supporters have been pouring into Sapporo over the last few days, the weather in the most northern of the tournament's venues becoming warmer and drier as the match has approached.

The game is being played indoors at the Sapporo Dome, where Australia came from behind to beat Fiji on Saturday and where, at the football World Cup in 2002, David Beckham's penalty helped England beat Argentina.

It will be an emotional occasion in particular for England's number eight Billy Vunipola, whose father and uncle both played for Tonga the last time the two nations met in a World Cup.

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Tonga have won only one of their past seven Tests heading into this clash and, having shipped 14 tries in a warm-up match against the All Blacks, will begin as rank outsiders.

But Jones, who as Japan coach in 2015 plotted the famous defeat of the Springboks, is taking nothing for granted.

"Tonga will have that ferocious pride - they are playing for more than just a game of rugby," he said.

"They are playing for a small country that fights against the odds and players there are fighting for their livelihoods, we know it means a lot for them.

"We understand how much emotion and intensity will go into the game and we have to match that.

"But we want to take them on. We are England and we want to take them on up front so no one will come out of there guessing."

England will meet Argentina and France to complete their group stage, the winner of Pool C playing the team that finishes second in Pool D, which contains both Wales and Australia.

Teams

England: Daly, Watson, Tuilagi, Farrell (c), May, Ford, Youngs; Marler, George, Sinckler, Lawes, Itoje, Curry, Underhill, Vunipola.

Replacements: Cowan-Dickie, Genge, Cole, Kruis, Ludlam, Heinz, Slade, Joseph.

Tonga: Halaifonua, Pakalani, Piutau (c), Vuna, Lolohea, Morath, Takulua; Fisiihoi, Sakalia, Tameifuna, Lousi, Fifita, Kalamafoni, Kapeli, Vaipulu.

Replacements: Maile, Talakai, Fia, Faleafa, Manu, Fukofuka, Faiva, Tu'itavake

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