BAGSHOT, England (Reuters) - England coach Stuart Lancaster is taking no risks for Friday’s game against Fiji after naming his strongest side for the Twickenham clash that opens the Rugby World Cup.
Though England face crunch Pool A games against Wales and Australia later in the tournament, Lancaster knows he cannot afford a slip up against an in-form Fiji team that is ranked ninth in the world.
Lancaster has picked the same side that started the home victory over Ireland in their final warm-up match, with the only change to the 23 coming on the bench where powerful hooker Rob Webber is preferred to Jamie George as back-up to Tom Youngs.
That means Brad Barritt and Jonathan Joseph starting at centre, with Sam Burgess continuing his quickfire conversion from rugby league as he is line for his first taste of the World Cup, and his third cap, off the bench.
Geoff Parling again keeps out Joe Launchbury due to his lineout prowess while Jonny May retains the left wing berth after his impressive recent displays and scrumhalf Ben Youngs
wins his 50th cap.
“The squad is massively excited to start the World Cup. Everyone has worked incredibly hard over the last three months and we are ready,” Lancaster said in a statement.
“Friday will be a great occasion for the whole squad and for the country. We are in a unique position to be playing in a World Cup on home soil and to have the support of a nation behind the team.
“That support will be a massive factor and we don’t underestimate its importance,” added Lancaster.
“All the players have put their hand up in training and in the internationals we have played this summer and we are blessed to have such a strong squad to select from against a skilful and powerful Fijian side.”
England team to play Fiji (2000 BST):
15-Mike Brown, 14-Anthony Watson, 13-Jonathan Joseph, 12-Brad Barritt, 11-Jonny May, 10-George Ford, 9-Ben Youngs; 8-Ben Morgan, 7-Chris Robshaw (captain), 6-Tom Wood, 5-Geoff Parling, 4-Courtney Lawes, 3-Dan Cole, 2-Tom Youngs, 1-Joe Marler.
Replacements: 16-Rob Webber, 17-Mako Vunipola, 18-Kieran Brookes, 19-Joe Launchbury, 20-Billy Vunipola, 21-Richard Wigglesworth, 22-Owen Farrell, 23-Sam Burgess.
Editing by Justin Palmer