England head coach Stuart Lancaster has urged his squad to conquer the unique and unfamiliar pressure generated by a Rugby World Cup on home soil after naming an unchanged XV for Friday’s opening clash against Fiji at Twickenham.
Lancaster has opted to select the same side which overcame Ireland 21-13 in their final QBE International ahead of the tournament, while the only adjustment comes among the replacements where hooker Rob Webber replaces Jamie George.
Northampton’s Courtney Lawes is set to partner line-out specialist Geoff Parling in the second row having seen off the challenge of Joe Launchbury, as Ben Morgan gets the nod over Billy Vunipola at No8, who is on the bench.
“The weight of expectation you have to turn into a positive and it’s down to me as head coach not to put that weight onto the players too much,” said Lancaster.
“It’s about maximising home advantage, a once-in-a-lifetime experience to play in a World Cup at home in England. Sometimes we’re not as front-foot as we should be about our pride in being English.
“We had a meeting on Sunday night trying to articulate the belief that we can win this tournament. Not in an arrogant way but in a positive way. Why would we come all this way and not believe we can win it?”
Lancaster’s consistency of selection also sees Jonny May and Anthony Watson named as England’s attacking thrust on the wing, having both scored against Ireland, which means there is no place in the matchday squad for Exeter’s Jack Nowell.
Saracens’s Brad Barritt and Jonathan Joseph of Bath will link at centre of only the second match, as rugby league convert Sam Burgess, who switched codes less than a year ago, takes his place among the replacements.
Scrum-half Ben Youngs, who is one of seven survivors from the scandal-hit World Cup of 2011 in New Zealand, is set to win his 50th international cap against the recently-crowned Pacific Nations Cup champions Fiji.
“If you’re not careful it could become just another Test week and I don’t want that because it isn’t just another Test week. It’s special for all sorts of reasons,” added Lancaster.
“But on the other hand, you don’t want to build it up too much, to take your mind off your performance because of the sheer scale of the event – it’s trying to get that balance right to dial up that sense of occasion at certain times.
“We need to be ready. The trick is to make sure we are prepared mentally, physically and to be emotionally ready for what will be a huge battle ahead. There’s a lot of experience in the team now and that should count on Friday night.”