Farrell leads full-strength England against Tonga in Rugby World Cup opener
England have paid Tonga the compliment of selecting their strongest available side for the teams' Rugby 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.
"He's in good form at the moment. He's moving very well. We think he's very suited to play against the Tongans," Jones said of Lawes at a news conference in Sapporo after announcing his side.
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.
With an average age of 26 years and 170 days, England's starting XV are the second youngest side by twelve days they have fielded in a Rugby World Cup match.
- 'Punch above their weight' -
Meanwhile the 21-year-old Curry will become the youngest forward to play for England at a Rugby World Cup.
"It is what it is," said Jones. "This is the best squad we've got for England. I'm not concerned about any lack of experience."
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 New Zealand in a warm-up match earlier this month.
"That was Hamilton two weeks before the World Cup," he said when asked about Tonga's overwhelming loss to the world champion All Blacks.
"This is Sapporo now. Completely different opposition, different mindset. We've got a different mindset from the warm-up games. They'll have a different mindset and we've got the greatest respect for Tonga as a World Cup opponent."
Tonga famously beat eventual finalists France at the 2011 World Cup and Jones added: "If you look historically, Tonga has punched above their weight at every World Cup and we are anticipating a ferocious battle on Sunday."
Jones has selected a highly mobile pack but he denied this meant his plan was for England to run Tonga off their feet.
"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."
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
Luke Cowan-Dickie, Ellis Genge, Dan Cole, George Kruis, Lewis Ludlam, Willi Heinz, Henry Slade, Jonathan Joseph.