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England coach Stuart Lancaster set to announce team for World Cup opener

Published 14/09/2015

Lock Geoff Parling will hope to have played his way into England's team to face Fiji on Friday
Lock Geoff Parling will hope to have played his way into England's team to face Fiji on Friday

England announce their team for Friday's World Cup opener against Fiji at Twickenham with lock, number eight and wing the outstanding selection issues that must be settled by head coach Stuart Lancaster.

Geoff Parling, Courtney Lawes and Joe Launchbury are competing to start in the second row, Ben Morgan and Billy Vunipola are duelling for a place in the back row and one of Anthony Watson, Jonny May and Jack Nowell must be overlooked.

Lancaster names his starting XV and bench late on Monday afternoon.

It was hard to envisage an engine-room combination other than Lawes and Launchbury when the series of three warm-up games opened in mid-August, but the line-out malfunction over two Tests against France has made Parling indispensible.

The return of the 31-year-old against Ireland last weekend resulted in an improvement and former England lock Ben Kay believes it is now merely a question of who he starts alongside, with Courtney Lawes his preferred choice.

"They'll definitely start with Geoff Parling and I'd also go for Lawes, purely because of his style of play. He's a defensive hitter and if you speak to players from other nations, he's someone they fear," Kay said.

"But also I believe Launchbury will deal better with coming off the bench. There's a danger with Courtney that if he sits there stewing he will be desperate to come on and make a big hit."

An easier call will be the make-up of the wings with May and Watson almost certain to gain Lancaster's favour after their try-scoring exploits in the first Test against France and then Ireland two weeks later.

The final conundrum lies at number eight where Lancaster must decide whether to start Morgan or Vunipola, with the other confined to the role of impact replacement.

Morgan has proved his fitness over two of the three warm-up matches after seven months out with a broken ankle and Lancaster expressed his admiration for the Gloucester back row after the 21-13 victory over Ireland.

"Ben's such a smart rugby player. It's a good position to be in to have two number eights. I can see it going one way and changing the next," Lancaster said.

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