18 September 2015 is a date that has been marked in diaries across the country, and indeed the world, for a very long time. At 8pm Jaco Peyper will start the 2015 Rugby World Cup and England Rugby will begin their quest to achieve rugby's ultimate prize on home soil. It is fair to say that England's challenge isn't for the feint hearted, as we all know their group is astonishingly difficult and with the weight of the country's expectations on their shoulders and an opener against an in form Fiji side, they'll need to fire out of the blocks on Friday night and never look back.
Tom Youngs recently described that in his experience Fiji 'are a little random' and historically he was right. Fiji used to delight us with their breaks and individual's skills but never quite be as well organised as they needed to be. However now, after two months together and an extremely positive Pacific Nations Cup, the Fijian side that stepped out against Canada a little over one week ago was much more organised and cohesive. Niko Matawalu is their stick of dynamite at scrum half, he's as sharp as they come and has electric pace and will certainly give the man earning his half century of caps, Ben Youngs, a lot to think about. Leone Nakarawa rose to prominence last season for the Glasgow Warriors and often defies belief and gravity with his offloading game. Nakarawa will keep the ball alive nine times out of ten and that enables his side to maintain momentum in all situations and areas of the field. The Fijians love to strike off the counter attack, they are the kings of the open field but most worryingly, as I see it, they are hugely powerful, athletic and physical men.
George Ford's game management will be critical, he has one of the best rugby brain's out there and must position England in the right areas of the field, at the right times as well as continuing to display flawless goal kicking. Stuart Lancaster has said quite clearly that England must deliver their basics and deliver them well on Friday night. Ahead of kick off and in the opening minutes of the match nervous energy will be flying, these men are only human after all and the leaders must step up. Of course we all know that it is Chris Robshaw's Rugby World Cup however he must act as if it is his second or third. England's Captain must carry the confidence of a man that has been there and done it all before and must show impenetrable strength in the face of any challenge or situation that heads his side's way on Friday night.
Discipline will be king, Jaco Peyper was not England's friend in Paris, if he starts to ping them for everything in the opening five minutes then England must adjust and adapt, for a positive opening quarter will be vital. Finally the home side should have the upper in two clear areas - their fitness and their bench. The hard graft that this England side has put in over the summer must come to fruition; England must tire out Fiji, strike hard when they are flagging and profit greatly the final quarter. England have the personnel to be able to up their pace and give the game fresh momentum in the final quarter with the likes of Billy and Mako Vunipola, Owen Farrell and Joe Launchbury. These men are hugely experienced in their own right and with all due respect to the Fijian bench I do not expect it to be able to have the same impact.
I have no doubt about the fact that this England side will find this match to be the most intense and pressured that they have ever played in. It will eclipse any knockout fixture, any final trial and be even greater than the warm up fixtures because on Friday, it counts. England have the talent and experience to beat Fiji and to beat them well and it is my hope that they will thrive under the white hot pressure that comes with opening a Rugby World Cup on home soil.
England Rugby: 15 Mike Brown 14 Anthony Watson 13 Jonathan Joseph 12 Brad Barritt 11 Jonny May 10 George Ford 9 Ben Youngs 1 Joe Marler 2 Tom Youngs 3 Dan Cole 4 Geoff Parling 5 Courtney Lawes 6 Tom Wood 7 Chris Robshaw (C) 8 Ben Morgan Replacements: 16 Rob Webber 17 Mako Vunipola 18 Kieran Brookes 19 Joe Launchbury 20 Billy Vunipola 21 Richard Wigglesworth 22 Owen Farrell 23 Sam Burgess
Fiji Rugby: 15 Metuisela Talebula, 14 Waisea Nayacalevu, 13 Vereniki Goneva, 12 Gabiriele Lovobalavu, 11 Nemani Nadolo, 10 Ben Volavola, 9 Nikola Matawalu, 1 Campese Ma'afu, 2 Sunia Koto, 3 Manasa Saulo, 4 Apisalome Ratuniyarawa, 5 Leone Nakarawa, 6 Dominiko Waqaniburotu, 7 Akapusi Qera (C) 8 Sakiusa Masi Matadigo Replacements: 16 Tuapati Talemaitoga, 17 Peni Ravai, 18 Isei Colati, 19 Tevita Cavubati, 20 Peceli Yato, 21 Nemia Kenatale, 22 Joshua Matavesi, 23 Aseli Tikoirotuma