When Sam Burgess made the move earlier this year from Australian Rugby League team the South Sydney Rabbitohs to English Rugby Union team Bath, few would have truly expected him to have any chance of making the England squad for this years Rugby Union World Cup. Fast forward four months and this week Burgess was named in England’s initial 50 man World Cup squad as the countdown to the 8th Rugby Union World Cup begins in earnest. This initial 50 man squad will be trimmed to 45 before a high altitude training camp in Denver, Colorado. Another ten will be trimmed before England’s warm-up games in August, with the final 31 being named at the end of August. With England hosting the tournament, the pressure is sure to be on coach, Stuart Lancaster, and the players that he eventually picks for the tournament. With the end of the Aviva Premiership season in sight, players will soon be turning their full focus towards gaining a place in Lancaster’s squad as England look to win the William Webb Ellis trophy for the second time.
The debate over Burgess continues, and will continue, until the final squad is announced. Some have commented that Burgess has the potential to make an explosive impact for England at the World Cup whilst others fear that it is a step too far and too much of a risk to take on someone who is so new to the Union game. The dilemma for Stuart Lancaster is twofold – not just whether he should select Burgess but also what position to play him in if he does select him. On his arrival back from Australia, Bath originally deployed Burgess at centre before opting to utilise him at flanker, where in recent weeks, he has looked at his best. Lancaster has commented that they will look to try Burgess at both centre and flanker during the Denver training camp, allowing the England coaching staff to see at first hand how he performs. Burgess does indeed have his weaknesses – still struggling with the intricacies of the maul for instance, but England would be better focussing on his strengths and what he can offer them rather than trying to fix his inadequacies in the short time before the World Cup.
England at present are short of large, strong, ball carrying players and the recent form of Burgess at flanker for Bath has not gone unnoticed. With Manu Tuilagi being omitted from the squad this week due to pleading guilty to assaulting a police officer, and the continued refusal to consider Steffon Armitage due to the RFU policy on selecting over-seas based players, the chances of Burgess making the final 31 are increasing by the week. If Burgess does make the final squad, then he will be one of the elite players to have represented his country at both a Rugby League and a Rugby Union World Cup – an enviable achievement.
BY: SCOTT McGLYNN