England’s opening autumn international against New Zealand in November will kick-off at 5:30pm after the Rugby Football Union confirmed their schedule, with Tonga announced as their fourth opponents in what will be their first meeting outside of a Rugby World Cup.
The four-Test series also includes an 8pm kick-off against Argentina, England’s first evening kick-off at Twickenham since the 2015 Rugby World Cup, in what is a shake-up of the normal autumn international schedule.
The RFU confirmed on Thursday that they will face the All Blacks, Argentina, Tonga and Australia on consecutive weekends in November, with all four matches taking place at Twickenham.
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The first three matches will also count towards the Rugby World Cup draw, with the rankings being taken following the weekend of the 21/22 November to split teams ahead of the France 2023 pool-stage draw, which will take place later this year.
But in what is a change from the traditional 2:30pm autumn international kick-off, the games against the All Blacks and Pumas will take place much later in the day, while the two remaining Tests will begin 30 minutes later than normal at 3:15pm.
All three of England’s 2015 Rugby World Cup matches at Twickenham kicked off at 8pm, with fans experiencing significant travel difficulties after the opening match against Fiji which took place on a Friday night. Twickenham has staged one international with an evening kick-off since hosting the World Cup four-and-a-half years ago, which featured Argentina and Australia in a 2016 Rugby Championship encounter.
It will be just the fourth time that England have met Tonga, and the first time that that Pacific Islanders have been welcomed to Twickenham as part of the autumn internationals. The two nations met at the south-west London stadium 21 years ago as part of the 1999 Rugby World Cup, with their two other encounters coming in the Paris at the 2007 World Cup and in Sapporo last September at Japan 2019 – where England secured a 35-3 victory to kick-start their run to the final.
Five of Tonga’s starting XV in that match are based in England, including Bristol Bears captain Sione Piutau and Leicester Tigers back-row Sione Kalamafoni, and the fixture is part of the RFU’s commitment to play at least one ‘tier two’ side every autumn.
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