The performance of young George Ford will be key to England’s cause in their World Cup opener against Fiji, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
England will face dangerous opponents in Friday’s highly anticipated opening match of the tournament, and they’ll be desperate to clinch a win to settle the nerves.
Coach Stuart Lancaster is keen for his team to embrace the pride and privilege of playing at home, but there has already been an array of fanfare around the England team’s build-up to their opening match.
It’s sure to have been an emotional balancing act for the English squad this week, with the weight of public expectation an unavoidable factor.
At the centre of it all, 22-year-old Ford will face a stern examination of both his mental and physical resolve, with the diminutive but undoubtedly talented youngster having been entrusted with the No 10 jersey.
The former IRB Young Player of the Year has seen off competition from Owen Farrell, Danny Cipriani and Freddie Burns to be tasked with igniting England’s backline at the World Cup.
Farrell continued to breathe down Ford’s neck as recently as the World Cup warm-up against Ireland earlier this month, but the latter produced an emphatic performance in that clash as he guided England to a morale-boosting victory.
Ford will be looking to produce another similarly composed performance against the dangerous Fijians, who will come into the match with nothing to lose.
However, at a jam-packed Twickenham, a strong, settled England side should be expected to get their campaign off to a winning start.
‘It’s about people realising that it’s a home World Cup, which brings with it great pressure but also great opportunity,’ Lancaster acknowledged. 'When you come back to Twickenham you realise how intimidating it is for the opposition. There’s a real sense of collective togetherness when the national anthem is sung. When we get momentum in a game, the crowd really drive energy through the team.’
9 – Test starts
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: England 5 Fiji 0
At Twickenham: England 3 Fiji 0
England – 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 (c), 6 Tom Wood, 5 Geoff Parling, 4 Courtney Lawes, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Tom Youngs, 1 Joe Marler. Subs: 16 Rob Webber, 17 Mako Vunipola, 18 Kieran Brookes, 19 Joe Launchbury, 20 Billy Vunipola, 21 Richard Wigglesworth, 22 Owen Farrell, 23 Sam Burgess.
Fiji – 15 Metuisela Talebula, 14 Waisea Nayacalevu, 13 Vereniki Goneva, 12 Gabiriele Lovobalavu, 11 Nemani Nadolo, 10 Ben Volavola, 9 Nikola Matawalu, 8 Sakiusa Masi Matadigo, 7 Akapusi Qera (c), 6 Dominiko Waqaniburotu, 5 Leone Nakarawa, 4 Apisalome Ratuniyarawa, 3 Manasa Saulo, 2 Sunia Koto, 1 Campese Ma’afu. Subs: 16 Tuapati Talemaitoga, 17 Peni Ravai, 18 Isei Colati, 19 Tevita Cavubati, 20 Peceli Yato, 21 Nemia Kenatale, 22 Joshua Matavesi, 23 Aseli Tikoirotuma.
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant referees: John Lacey (Ireland), Stuart Berry (South Africa)
TMO: Shaun Veldsman (South Africa)