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England v Argentina: Alex Mitchell and Jonny May to start Rugby World Cup opener

Alex Mitchell
Alex Mitchell started in England’s final warm-up game against Fiji
Venue: Stade de Marseille Date: Saturday, 9 September Kick-off: 20:00 BST
Coverage: Listen to live commentary on BBC Radio 5 Live, BBC Sounds and online; follow text commentary on the BBC Sport website and app.

Alex Mitchell and Jonny May will start for England in their World Cup opener against Argentina despite initially missing out on the 33-man squad.

Scrum-half Mitchell and wing May were late additions to Steve Borthwick’s squad after Jack van Poortvliet and Anthony Watson withdrew with injury.

George Ford will start at fly-half with captain Owen Farrell banned for the first two pool games.

Flanker Tom Curry starts his first game since the Premiership final in May.

Open-side Curry, who started the 2019 World Cup final defeat by South Africa, is yet to feature for England this summer after recovering from an ankle injury.

Ben Earl replaces Saracens team-mate Billy Vunipola, who is suspended for the opening game following his red card against Ireland in England’s penultimate warm-up game, at number eight.

Courtney Lawes completes the back row on the blind-side and continues as captain in the absence of Farrell.

Veteran prop Dan Cole starts at tight-head with Bath’s Will Stuart named amongst the replacements.

“He [Cole] is one of those wise heads,” Borthwick said. “He doesn’t say much, but when he does speak you know it’s important. Time seems to stand still when he speaks.”

Wing Elliot Daly has recovered from a knee injury to join 33-year-old May, who has 73 caps, and regular full-back Freddie Steward in the back three.

Harlequins’ Joe Marchant partners Manu Tuilagi in the midfield – as they did in the defeat by Ireland in Dublin.

Replacement scrum-half Danny Care, 36, is given the nod over Leicester Tigers’ Ben Youngs on the bench in what could be only his second World Cup appearance, having made his first against Uruguay in 2015.

England, who are ranked eighth in the world, lost three of their four warm-up games heading into the World Cup.

Borthwick’s side also face Japan, Chile and Samoa in Pool D, with the top two sides progressing to the quarter-finals.

Mitchell wildcard

Prior to his injury, Leicester Tigers’ Van Poortvliet had been Borthwick’s favoured scrum-half, having started every game in the Six Nations, with the 22-year-old known for his strong kicking game.

Mitchell, 26, who is more of a running scrum-half, scored seven tries in the Premiership last season for Northampton Saints, but missed out on the initial 33-man squad.

“It’s an immense credit to Mitch [Mitchell] in that he was incredibly disappointed not to make the original 33-man squad,” Borthwick added.

“I asked every player that I spoke to at that point to go away and ensure that they were ready to be the next man in.

“He’s trained exceptionally well. He’s done exactly what we asked of him – to make sure he was ready to go.”

The scrum-half started England’s final warm-up game against Fiji, winning only his sixth cap, as Borthwick favoured him ahead of veteran scrum-halves Care and Youngs.

With just five tries in four warm-up matches, England’s attack may require more energy and dynamism, and Mitchell can help create “organised chaos” according to former England international Ugo Moyne.

Pumas go with experience

Argentina, who won 30-29 against England at Twickenham in November, have named an experienced team, including nine players in the starting XV who have World Cup experience.

Premiership-based players include captain Julian Montoya from Leicester Tigers and Gloucester fly-half Santiago Carreras.

Replacement hooker Agustin Creevy, 38, will play in his fourth World Cup, joining Mario Ledesma, Felipe Contepomi and Martin Scelzo for most tournaments featured at by an Argentine.

The Sale Sharks hooker is part of a 6-2 split of forwards and backs selected on the bench by coach Michael Cheika.


England: Steward; May, Marchant, Tuilagi, Daly; Ford, Mitchell; Genge, George, Cole, Itoje, Chessum, Lawes (capt), Curry, Earl.

Replacements: Dan, Marler, Stuart, Martin, Ludlam, Care, Smith, Lawrence.

Argentina: Mallia; Boffelli, Cinti, Chocobares, M Carreras; S Carreras, Bertranou; Gallo, Montoya (capt), Gomez Kodela, Lavanini, Alemanno, Martin Gonzalez, Kremer, Matera.

Replacements: Creevy, Sclavi, Bello, Petti Pagadizabal, Rubiolo, Bruni, Bazan Velez, Moroni.

England’s Pool D fixtures

Saturday, 9 September: England v Argentina (Stade de Marseille), 20:00 BST

Sunday, 17 September: England v Japan (Stade de Nice), 20:00

Saturday, 23 September: England v Chile (Stade Pierre-Mauroy, Lille), 16:45

Saturday 7 October: England v Samoa (Stade Pierre-Mauroy, Lille), 16:45

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