It’s all about Samoa in Lille. England will finish first in Pool D and have qualified for the quarter-finals whatever the result here.
Not that England are taking any chances. Head coach Steve Borthwick has named 13 of the starting XV from their opening round win over Argentina, with Jonny May and captain Owen Farrell, playing at 12 outside George Ford, the only changes from that side – while Tom Curry will earn his 49th test cap on his return from a two-match suspension, having played just three minutes at RWC 2023 so far.
The starting front row here – Ellis Genge, Jamie George and Dan Cole – also started in England’s 48-14 victory over Samoa back in 2017.
Samoa, meanwhile, have third place in their sights – and qualification for Rugby World Cup 2027 in Australia – knowing that an automatic place at the next tournament is out of their hands. Argentina and Japan will have the final say on Sunday, when Pool D's second quarter-finalist will be decided.
Head coach Seilala Mapusua has named an all-new front-row of Jordan Lay, Sama Malolo, and captain Michael Alaalatoa and a new second-row of Sam Slade and Brian Alainu’u’ese for the match in Lille, among nine changes to his starting XV from the team that lost 28-22 against Japan. Only Theo McFarland, Fritz Lee, Steven Luatua, Jonathan Taumateine, Tumua Manu and Duncan Paia’aua retain their places.
Quarter-final qualification and an Australia berth ultimately rests on the result of Japan v Argentina in Nantes. But a surprise win for Samoa here would pile the pressure on both those sides at Stade de la Beaujoire.
FIXTURE: England v Samoa
GROUND: Pierre-Mauroy, Lille (50,096)
KICK-OFF: 17:45 local time (GMT+2)
This is the ninth time the two sides have met on a rugby pitch – and the first since 2017, though they played one another in the 1995, 2003 and 2007 editions of the tournament. England have never lost.
England and Samoa were drawn together in the pool phase of the 2007 tournament, meeting in Nantes. England won 44-22 – but Samoa had dragged themselves back from 23-6 down, after half an hour, to 26-22 with 50 minutes on the clock. Things were a little nervy, for a while, for the then-defending champions.
KEY TALKING POINT
England’s form and fortunes. After a difficult World Cup warm-up period had left fans and pundits openly wondering, England have quietly and efficiently cruised into the last eight. A fourth pool win in Lille is not a formality, but suddenly Borthwick's side are starting to look like contenders.
Jamie George v Sama Malolo. There will be more spectacular one-on-ones here, but the quiet importance of the front row battle should never be underestimated. The experienced George goes up against a player earning just his second international start – and his first at the Rugby World Cup – with five of his total six caps to date coming off the bench.
Captain Owen Farrell requires two more points to become England’s all-time leading point-scorer, and end Jonny Wilkinson’s 22-year reign.
Andrew Brace (Ireland). The United Rugby Championship referee has shown the joint fewest cards – just one yellow in the two matches he has officiated at – while blowing for an average of 24 penalties per match, two less per game than Ben O’Keeffe, and eight more than Nika Amashukeli.
ENGLAND Freddie Steward; Joe Marchant, Manu Tuilagi, Owen Farrell (captain), Jonny May; George Ford, Alex Mitchell; Ellis Genge, Jamie George, Dan Cole; Maro Itoje, Ollie Chessum; Courtney Lawes, Tom Curry, Ben Earl
Replacements: Theo Dan, Joe Marler, Kyle Sinckler, George Martin, Billy Vunipola, Danny Care, Marcus Smith, Ollie Lawrence
SAMOA Duncan Paia’aua; Nigel Ah-Wong, Tumua Manu, Danny Toala, Neria Fomai; Lima Sopoaga, Jonathan Taumateine; Jordan Lay, Sama Malolo, Michael Alaalatoa (captain); Sam Slade, Brian Alainu’u’ese; Theo McFarland, Fritz Lee, Steven Luatua
Replacements: Seilala Lam, James Lay, Paul Alo-Emile, Sootala Fa’aso’o, Alamanda Motuga, Melani Matavao, Christian Leali’ifano, Miracle Faiilagi