Rugby League convert Sam Burgess will have a chance to book his place in the England rugby union side’s World Cup squad after being handed a Test debut in the team named on Monday by coach Stuart Lancaster for Saturday’s warm-up match against France at Twickenham.
Burgess has been selected by World Cup hosts England just 10 months after his high-profile cross-code switch from rugby league, having bowed out of the 13-man games by helping the South Sydney Rabbitohs win Australia’s NRL title.
The 26-year-old Burgess has been picked at inside centre, not blindside flanker where he produced his best performances for club side Bath last season, and will line-up alongside fellow uncapped player Henry Slade in midfield, with experienced fly-half Owen Farrell alongside the two new Test centres.
That Burgess has made it this far in his quest to play at the World Cup, which starts next month, has proved highly controversial with a number of pundits arguing he has done little in his time in union to warrant such rapid promotion for all his success in league.
But England coach Lancaster said Monday: “We will see if Sam can translate what he’s done in training, which is clearly good otherwise I wouldn’t have taken this chance to look at him against France.”
– Ball carrier –
Lancaster, making it clear he had picked an experimental side, added: “I’m open minded about what Sam can do — this isn’t the team that’s going to play against Fiji in our first World Cup game, this is the team to look at options.
“We need a balance in our backline, a balance of ball players, carriers and finishers. Sam ticks the ball carrier box.
“And obviously there’s the physical nature of backlines and you need to look at that element, particularly defensively.
“It’s an option for us to look at and it will be interesting to see how well Sam goes,” said Lancaster who, in common with all World Cup coaches, must name his final 31-man squad for the tournament by August 31
Burgess and Slade are two of four uncapped players in the matchday 23, with Calum Clark starting at openside flanker and hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie on the bench.
Also among the replacements is fly-half Danny Cipriani, available for selection in England’s World Cup squad after he was re-bailed last week until November following his arrest on suspicion of drink-driving.
Blindside flanker Tom Wood has been given the captaincy in a dress rehearsal for what might happen should regular skipper Chris Robshaw be ruled out of the tournament at any stage, while Ben Morgan is included at No 8 in his first Test call-up since breaking his leg in January.
“Tom has captained England for me before in Argentina and he did a great job. This gives Robshaw another week off,” Lancaster said.
Saturday’s match is the first of three World Cup warm-up fixtures for England, who will face France in Paris the following weekend before welcoming Six Nations champions Ireland to Twickenham on September 5.
“We are going out to win the game and we will play with positive intent, a high tempo game,” said Lancaster.
England begin their World Cup campaign proper against Fiji in a Pool A match at Twickenham on September 18.
The so-called ‘group of death’ also features Australia and Wales, meaning at least one of the sport‘s major nations will crash out before the quarter-finals as only the top two teams from each of the four pools go through to the last eight.
Last weekend saw Australia beat world champions New Zealand 27-19 in Sydney while Wales lost 35-21 to Six Nations kings Ireland in Cardiff. – Agence France-Presse