England coach Eddie Jones has nailed his colours to the mast ahead of his side's World Cup opener against Tonga Sunday by picking a powerful, mobile side for a "ferocious battle" with the Pacific islanders.
Barring the absence of lock George Kruis and winger Joe Cokanasiga, Jones has selected the same side that dismantled Ireland 57-15 last month, a sign that the head coach is taking nothing for granted despite many fans and pundits writing off Tonga's chances.
Courtney Lawes comes in to replace Maro Itoje's regular partner Kruis in the second row for the Pool C opener at the Sapporo Dome, while a full-strength back line sees Elliot Daly get the nod at full-back, with Anthony Watson named on the right wing ahead of Cokanasiga despite his return to fitness from a knee injury. Jonny May rounds out the back three.
Powerhouse No. 8 Billy Vunipola is included in a mobile back row with flankers Tom Curry and Sam Underhill, while George Ford starts at fly-half. Captain Owen Farrell is the second playmaker at inside centre.
Despite suggestions England might look to neutralise Tonga's physicality by running them around the pitch, Jones said the gameplan was much more direct.
"We are going to take them on," Jones told a news conference on Friday. "We are England, we want to take them on up front. No one will come out of there guessing."
While Tonga were on the receiving end of a 92-7 thrashing by the All Blacks in a World Cup warm-up earlier this month, Jones said the situation on Sunday would be completely different.
"We've got the greatest respect for Tonga as a World Cup opponent," he said. "If you look, historically Tonga have punched above their weight at every World Cup and we are anticipating a ferocious battle on Sunday."
England will look to the playmaking axis of Ford and Farrell to dictate the tempo, but Jones said they would only be able to have an impact if the forwards generated possession.
"The ability of these guys to do what they can do is based on how much good ball you can win up front. Against Tonga we know we are going to have a battle up there."
Meanwhile, Tonga loose forward Nasi Manu has been named in his nation's squad to face England in Sapporo, completing his dream return to rugby after a battle with testicular cancer.
The No. 8 will back up Maama Vaipulu from the bench after being given the nod by coach Toutai Kefu for his first Test since June last year.
Manu was diagnosed with cancer last year and underwent surgery and chemotherapy before being given the all-clear by his Italian doctors earlier this year.
England starting XV:
15. Elliot Daly, 14. Anthony Watson, 13. Manu Tuilagi, 12. Owen Farrell (C), 11. Jonny May, 10. George Ford, 9. Ben Youngs; 1. Joe Marler, 2. Jamie George, 3. Kyle Sinckler, 4. Courtney Lawes, 5. Maro Itoje, 6. Tom Curry, 7. Sam Underhill, 8. Billy Vunipola.
Replacements: 16. Luke Cowan-Dickie, 17. Ellis Genge, 18. Dan Cole, 19. George Kruis, 20. Lewis Ludlam, 21. Willi Heinz, 22. Henry Slade, 23. Jonathan Joseph.
Tonga starting XV:
15. David Halaifonua, 14. Atieli Pakalani, 13. Siale Piutau (C), 12. Cooper Vuna, 11. Viliami Lolohea, 10. Kurt Morath, 9. Sonatane Takulua; 1. Siegfried Fisiihoi, 2. Sosefo Sakalia, 3. Ben Tameifuna, 4. Sam Lousi, 5. Leva Fifita, 6. Sione Kalamafoni, 7. Fotu Lokotui, 8. Maama Vaipulu.
Replacements: 16. Siua Maile, 17. Latu Talakai, 18. Ma'afu Fia, 19. Dan Faleafa, 20. Nasi Manu, 21. Leon Fukofuka, 22. James Faiva, 23. Nafi Tu'itavake.