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Sam Burgess will be part of England’s World Cup campaign just nine months after playing his first game of rugby union. He was named on Thursday in the 31-strong squad for the tournament at the expense of Northampton’s Luther Burrell, an ever-present in the last two Six Nations campaigns.
The ex-South Sydney Rabbitohs star has been selected as one of Lancaster’s four centres alongside Jonathan Joseph, Brad Barritt and Henry Slade, as confirmed by the official England Rugby Twitter account on Wednesday
Burgess was preferred to Luther Burrell, an England regular over the last two seasons, as one of four centers in a squad announced by coach Stuart Lancaster.
Burgess’ leadership skills and winning mentality have persuaded Lancaster to take a gamble on a player who has had more game time as a blindside flanker with Bath in the English league since moving to the 15-man code last year. His only appearance for England was in a World Cup warmup match against a second-string France side on Aug. 15.
“He has been behind the 8-ball as far as time is concerned and obviously everyone has an opinion,” said England backs coach Andy Farrell, who also switched from rugby league to union. “But to force our arm to put him in our squad, he should be unbelievably proud of himself.”
However, ex-England captain Will Carling doesn’t agree with Lancaster’s selection and calls the pressure on Burgess “unfair,” per the Press Association’s Duncan Bech
Lancaster will seek to prove Carling’s doubts wrong, as tournament hosts England prepare to open their World Cup campaign in the “Pool of Death” against Australia, Wales, Fiji and Uruguay.
Another benefit to bringing Burgess is that he can offer back-row cover in the event the likes of Chris Robshaw, Tom Wood or James Haskell suffer injury.
Barritt and Joseph stand to be England’s first-choice midfield pairing come kick-off, but it will be of huge interest to see just how the newcomer Burgess responds under the spotlight of a nation’s expectations.
England’s Rugby World Cup squad
Full-backs: Brown (Harlequins), Goode (Saracens)
Wings: Nowell (Exeter), May (Gloucester), Watson (Bath)
Centres: Joseph (Bath), Barritt (Saracens), Slade (Exeter), Burgess (Bath)
Fly-halves: Ford (Bath), Farrell (Saracens)
Scrum-halves: B Youngs (Leicester), Care (Harlequins), Wigglesworth (Saracens)
Hookers: T Youngs (Leicester), Webber (Bath), George (Saracens)
Props: Marler (Harlequins), M Vunipola (Saracens), Cole (Leicester), Wilson (Bath), Brookes (Northampton)
Second-rows: Lawes (Northampton), Launchbury (Wasps), Parling (Exeter Chiefs), Kruis (Saracens)
Flankers: Haskell (Wasps), Robshaw (Harlequins), Wood (Northampton)
No8s: Morgan (Gloucester), B Vunipola (Saracens)