Samoa may have endured a disappointing World Cup that is almost certain to result in group-stage elimination but they will be determined to finish on a high against Pool D winners England in Lille on Saturday.
Here, we examine five talking points ahead of England’s last match before the knockout phase.
England go full bore
Steve Borthwick takes satisfaction in repeating his mantra that the next match is all that counts, but by going full bore against Samoa he has revealed his selection thinking for the quarter-final against probable opponents Fiji. One or two adjustments aside, this is the starting XV that will take the field in Marseille on Sunday week, shaped around the generalship of George Ford and Owen Farrell.
Back in the saddle
Explaining his decision to reunite twin playmakers Ford and Farrell as starters for the first time since the 2021 Six Nations, Borthwick pointed to their win ratio of 77.5 per cent across 40 Tests when paired together at fly-half and inside centre. England’s head coach believes a partnership that flourished under his predecessor Eddie Jones, reaching its apex in the World Cup semi-final destruction of New Zealand four years ago, can thrive once again.
History beckons for beefed up Farrell
Farrell has packed on extra muscle in anticipation of his new role at inside centre, where he will provide a carrying threat on top of assisting Ford to run the game with spells at first-receiver as well as offering midfield kick, run and pass options. Earlier this week scrum-half Danny Care gave an insight into how Farrell will be used when he said: “Owen is a big 10 so he will punch the line a little bit more”. Farrell is also assigned the goalkicking duties and needs only two more points to eclipse the England record of 1,179 set by Jonny Wilkinson.
England know their strengths
“Big boy rugby” is how Ireland prop Tadhg Furlong described the Lions’ first Test against South Africa in 2021 and that sentiment permeates through England’s dry run for the quarter-finals. Gone are the dazzling maestros of the 11-try rout of Chile – Marcus Smith and Henry Arundell – and in comes a win-at-all-costs mentality signposted by the inclusion of elite kickers at 10 and 12 and the squad’s two best kick chasing wings in Jonny May and Joe Marchant. Borthwick’s England are confident of their strengths, according to Courtney Lawes: “We’re a really strong defensive team. That’s our backbone. We’re an aerial kicking team and are very good at getting the ball back.”
Manu’s special moment
A big moment awaits for one of England’s greatest servants as Manu Tuilagi faces the nation of his birth for the first time in a Test career spanning 55 caps. Many of England’s finest performances of the last 12 years have had Tuilagi at their heart and while not the force of old, his pedigree as an international centre has enabled him to reach an important occasion. The 32-year-old left Samoa as a teenager but remains proud of his Islander heritage and has been an inspirational figure for both countries.