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Burgess set for Wales RWC acid test

2015-09-25 11:25
Sam Burgess (Gallo)

London - Rugby League convert Sam Burgess will be thrown in at the deep end when he starts against Wales in the first big Rugby World Cup 'Pool of Death' clash on Saturday.

Critics say England coach Stuart Lancaster is rushing Burgess. Lancaster has insisted he is not risking the World Cup hosts' chances.

A chest injury to Bath team-mate Jonathan Joseph during England's tournament-opening 35-11 win over Fiji led Lancaster to rejig his backline for their second Pool A game which has earned its notoriety because of the presence of Australia.

Now, having made much of the need for experience in the side when he became England coach in 2012, Lancaster will give Burgess just his second Test start in the 15-man game, at inside centre, alongside the tough-tackling Brad Barritt.

Lancaster has also dropped George Ford, his first-choice fly-half for the past year, and brought in Owen Farrell, who like Burgess and recalled No 8 Billy Vunipola impressed off the bench against Fiji.

To England's critics, this looks like a 'horses for courses' selection designed to counter the threat of a powerful Welsh midfield featuring British and Irish Lions centre Jamie Roberts. Lancaster has reverted to the type expected of Red Rose coaches by opting for power over guile and not even finding space in his match day 23 for Exeter playmaker Henry Slade, they say.

But Lancaster insisted his line-up was not a sign that England, captained by flank Chris Robshaw, would deploy a conservative game plan against Wales, a side they beat 21-16 when the teams met in the Six Nations in Cardiff in February.

"There's got to be some subtlety in there because Wales are too good defensively to break down that way," Lancaster said after unveiling his side on Thursday.

Burgess has played just 112 minutes of international rugby union, including one start, in the 10 months since he bowed out of rugby league. Former England captain Will Carling is among those who believe he has been rushed needlessly into the Test set-up.

But Wales coach Warren Gatland is not so sure, although he suggested England would miss Joseph, who scored a fine try when the visitors came from behind to beat Wales at the Millennium Stadium this year.

"He (Burgess) has got inexperience at rugby (union), but not at big occasions."

The New Zealander added: "Joseph has caused us a lot of problems at centre...I am not sure that Burgess and Barritt have the same footwork."

Injury-hit Wales, who lost ace goal kicker Leigh Halfpenny and scrum-half Rhys Webb before the tournament started, received an official warning Thursday for training with players from outside their 31-man squad. There are concerns over the fitness of props Samson Lee and Paul James.

England and Wales enjoyed bonus-point wins over Fiji and Uruguay respectively last week but saw their set-pieces stutter ahead of their clash.

England's forward platform was key to their victory in Cardiff this year, with Gatland saying: "We got dragged into a game that we didn't want to do.

"They wanted to keep the ball in the scrums and they wanted to drive every line-out.

"We have got to be aware that that is potentially a tactic they might bring on Saturday," added Gatland, who will hope for an improved display by a Welsh pack featuring skipper Sam Warburton and lock Alun Wyn Jones.

The has been immense hype surrounding Saturday's match ever since the draw was made in 2012.

Lancaster, trying to put the fixture into context, said: "It is important to state that it is not the end of the World Cup, this game.

"There's still a lot more to be decided, but all roads do lead to Saturday."

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