By Max Mathews
- England make 10 changes to side that beat Tonga on Sunday
- Eddie Jones’ men have had only four days of recovery since last match
- In-experienced Eagles select eight English-based players to face the Rose
KOBE, JAPAN – After an unconvincing win against Tonga, England have changed two-thirds of their starting XI to face the USA on Thursday morning.
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All-Change for England
Despite winning 35-3 in their first game against Tonga, England laboured and were lacklustre at times making 14 handling errors across the 80 minutes. With only a short turnaround since their bruising opening encounter, the changes have been rung as England face the weakest team in the group – on paper.
Retaining their sturdy core of prop Joe Marler, flanker Tom Curry, number eight Billy Vunipola, skipper George Ford and full-back Elliot Daly but everyone else is new, with tournament debuts for backs Ruaridh McConnochie, Joe Cokanasiga and centre Piers Francis.
This could be all part of the master plan to rest and recover certain players, and keep some fit and firing by playing them, but so many swaps indicates a certain dissatisfaction with the first match, and a blow to the World Cup six-week plan.
Starter Dan Cole and Ben Youngs – if he comes off the bench – will make their 91st appearances for their country – only Jason Leonard and Dylan Hartley have won more for the men’s team.
Ford the long-term fly-half?
Ford is enjoying a run of starts at fly-half, having sat on the bench during the Six Nations as coach Eddie Jones preferred Owen Farrell at 10 with a Manu Tuilagi or Henry Slade combination at centre.
But his two starts in this tournament do not mean he will get the same opportunity when the sterner tests of Argentina and France come in the next two games, according to his coach.
As he told BBC Sport in forthright tone, Jones said:
“You shouldn’t read a lot into it – George is the best 10 for the USA game. He just keeps evolving as a player, as do a number of our players.
That’s what I’m most impressed about with our team – there’s a real thirst within the team to improve, and George is at the head of the queue pushing that forward.”
England have won all five of their previous meetings with the USA, beating them in the World Cups of 1987, 1991 and 2007. Twelve years ago, England came through 28-10 in Lens, when Farrell’s father Andy Farrell – now Ireland’s defence coach – came off the bench.
In the build-up to the game, Jones has rather wryly remarked that facing the Eagles will be like 15 Donald Trumps, but in whatever context he referenced, the US could be regarded as somewhat ‘rookie’.
Fourteen players are set to make their Rugby World Cup debut in this game, including Toulouse 19-year-old David Ainu’u, although the squad contains 519 international caps in total.
Key players include former Cardiff wing Blaine Scully, who captains the side in his third World Cup, classy Sale stand-off AJ MacGinty (who made 83% of his kicks last season), eighthman Cam Dolan – almost at 50 caps – and hooker Joe Taufete’e.
The Worcester man has an astonishing record of 20 tries in 23 caps, making him the highest ever try-scorer in international rugby among players in the tight five.
England: Daly; McConnochie, Joseph, Francis, Cokanasiga; Ford (c), Heinz; Marler, Cowan-Dickie, Cole, Launchbury, Kruis, Curry, Ludlam, Vunipola.
Replacements: Singleton, Genge, Sinckler, Lawes, Wilson, Youngs, Farrell, Watson.
USA: Hooley; Scully (c), Brache, Lasike, Iosefo; MacGinty, Davies; Ainu’u, Taufete’e, Lamositele, Landry, Civetta, Lamborn, Quill, Dolan.
Replacements: Fawsitt, Kilifi, Mullen, Peterson, Germishuys, de Haas, Campbell, Te’o.
England take on the USA at the Misaki Park Stadium in Kobe, Japan on Thursday morning at 11.45am UK time.
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