England settled ahead of opener

Date published: September 15 2015

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Unchanged starting XVs have been a rarity for England under Stuart Lancaster. Having that luxury for Friday's glamourous opening fixture against Fiji will go some way to calming English nerves as the world looks on.

The suspicion was always that the team who took on Ireland at Twickenham would remain intact to face Fiji, but solid performances in that game and some luck with injuries, unlike Pool A opponents Wales, have meant no tricky disruptions.

Lancaster was true to his word when he declared England would field their strongest possible side in the opening game.

The centre pairing of Brad Barritt and Jonathan Joseph will start together for only the second time.

England had 477 caps in their starting side in their opening World Cup game four years ago in Dunedin, 86 of which belonged to Jonny Wilkinson and when Manu Tuilagi won only his second cap. Lancaster's team has 444 caps, fewer than four years ago, but not as much as many believe.

Ben Youngs will make his 50th appearance for England and only trails Dan Cole by three caps as the side's most experienced player.

No player has fewer caps than Sam Burgess, who makes the England bench over more versatile options such as Alex Goode and Henry Slade.

Lancaster made clear on Monday that England want their replacements to make an impact just as they did against Ireland.

Burgess is still raw but can certainly bring some added physicality into England's midfield. Any collision between him and Nemani Nadolo will provide give Twickenham's foundations a thorough test.

Courtney Lawes has held off the threat from Joe Launchbury to keep his place alongside Geoff Parling, whose inclusion seemed to solve England's recent lineout wobbles against Ireland, while Billy Vunipola will be expected to come charging off the bench for Ben Morgan.

Morgan's start at number eight completes a comeback that wasn't always certain to come off in time after he broke his leg in January. He has been one of Lancaster's most reliable players during his tenure, especially in the biggest games.

The single change to the England 23, seeing Rob Webber come in for Jamie George, sensibly adds that extra bit of experience to the bench.

England feel settled and secure. Friday and beyond will tell if their lack of caps comes back to haunt them but for now, it's full steam ahead for this XV into one of the biggest games of their lives.

by Ben Coles

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