|Venue: Eden Park, Auckland Date: Saturday, 8 October Kick-off: 04:45 BST|
|Coverage: Listen on BBC Radio 5 Live; follow live text commentary on the BBC Sport website and app.|
England’s 20-year-old flanker Sadia Kabeya will start the side’s World Cup opener against Fiji on Saturday, with replacement wing Abby Dow set to return from a broken leg.
Kabeya starts ahead of 2014 World Cup winner Marlie Packer, who misses out with a foot injury.
Dow broke her leg in April’s Women’s Six Nations but has made a rapid return to fitness for the World Cup.
England are on a record winning run and are favourites to take the trophy.
The two-time champions became the first team to win 25 Tests in a row with victory against Wales in September.
England: Kildunne; Thompson, Scarratt, Rowland, MacDonald; Harrison, Infante; Cornborough, Cokayne, Bern, Aldcroft, Ward, Matthews, Kabeya, Hunter (capt).
Replacements: Powell, Botterman, Muir, O’Donnell, Cleall, L Packer, Aitchison, Dow.
Packer expected to return for France game
Simon Middleton’s team face World Cup debutants Fiji in their opening game, but the England head coach has chosen his strongest available side as he looks to build consistency through the tournament.
Kabeya – who has just four England caps – had tested positive for Covid-19 after arriving in New Zealand and came out of isolation on Tuesday.
Her room-mate Shaunagh Brown was unavailable for selection because the prop is still isolating, with hooker Lark Davies also sidelined with an ankle injury.
Middleton said both Davies and Packer would be fit for the side’s second – and more challenging – group game against France.
Wing Jess Breach is a notable omission from the matchday 23 as Lydia Thompson and Claudia MacDonald, recently returned from a potentially career-ending neck injury, are preferred as starters.
MacDonald can also play at scrum-half but her inclusion in the back three means Lucy Packer is on the bench as Leanne Infante starts at nine.
Sarah Hunter will captain the side from number eight alongside Alex Matthews and Kabeya in the back row.
Zoe Harrison is England’s starting fly-half and Helena Rowland is at inside centre – a combination Middleton is expected to favour throughout the tournament.
‘We will be the bad guys’ – Middleton
Fiji are already proving to be a popular side at the tournament and England head coach Middleton says “we’re going to be the bad guys on Saturday”.
“They’re probably going to want an open, flowing game based around a bit of carnage,” he added.
“We want to try and bring them under control.”
Dow may well help England match fire with fire, with Middleton suggesting the wing is nearly back to her best.
“She scored a couple of tries in training yesterday and she puts the fear of god into defenders in front of her,” he said.
“Before she got injured she was the best finisher in world rugby. To get back from where she’s been is incredible – enjoying it is the most important thing.”
England’s match at 04:45 BST will be the second of three on the opening day at Auckland’s Eden Park, where a record attendance is expected with fewer than 1,800 tickets left for the 50,000 capacity venue.
France and New Zealand – England’s main contenders for the trophy – will also play at Eden Park on Saturday.
France face South Africa in the tournament opener at 02:15, with hosts New Zealand taking on Australia in the final game of the day at 07:15.
Wales and Scotland play each other in Whangarei at 05:45 on Sunday, 9 October.
|Saturday, 8 October||Saturday, 22 October|
|South Africa v France – 02:15 BST||France v Fiji – 07:15 BST|
|Fiji v England – 04:45 BST||Sunday, 23 October|
|Saturday, 15 October||England v South Africa – 05:45 BST|
|France v England – 08:00 BST|
|Sunday, 16 October|
|Fiji v South Africa – 05:45 BST|