Burgess starts for England v Wales

2015-09-24 10:47
Sam Burgess (Gallo)

London - Rugby League convert Sam Burgess has been given a starting role as an England centre for the pivotal Rugby World Cup match against Wales at Twickenham on Saturday after coach Stuart Lancaster named his side on Thursday.

A chest injury to Burgess's Bath team-mate Jonathan Joseph has seen the 26-year-old - who has played just 112 minutes of Test rugby union - given the role of outside centre alongside Saracens midfielder Brad Barritt, while Owen Farrell starts at flyhalf in place of the demoted George Ford.

The decision to drop Ford to the bench is arguably even more controversial than Burgess's inclusion given the Bath playmaker has been England's first-choice No 10 for the best part of a year.

In selecting Burgess alongside Barritt, Lancaster has now opted for his 14th different midfield combination since taking charge in 2012.

The trio of Farrell-Burgess-Barritt is certainly the most physically powerful midfield three available to Lancaster, with England expecting a bruising gainline contest against the Welsh.

In another change to the England XV from the team that beat Fiji 35-11 at Twickenham last week, No 8 Billy Vunipola - who like Burgess and Farrell impressed off the bench against the Pacific islanders - starts in place of Ben Morgan, out with a knee injury.

With Burgess and Vunipola now starting, Alex Goode comes on to the bench to provide cover at both fullback and flyhalf, with veteran James Haskell involved as a back-row replacement.

Former England flyhalf Toby Ford warned the decision to relegate Ford to the bench could leave the 22-year-old "pretty devastated" as he has "been dropped when he hasn't actually played that badly".

Burgess, the man of the match when the South Sydney Rabbitohs won Australian rugby league's NRL Grand Final in October last year, has been a union player for just 10 months and for much of that time has been deployed as a back-row by Bath.

He has so far made just one start in three Test appearances and doubts remain about how he will fare against a Wales backline set to include British and Irish Lions centre Jamie Roberts.

Joseph's brilliant try may have been the highlight of England's 21-16 win over Wales in the Six Nations in Cardiff in February, but the victory was built on a superb ball-carrying effort which, in part, explains the inclusion of both Farrell and Burgess for this weekend's match.

England's plan appears to be to wear Wales down and then use their strength in depth off the bench, including Ford, in the final quarter - a strategy that worked well in their bonus-point win over Fiji.

"We have a lot of respect for the Wales coaching team and their players," said Lancaster in a Rugby Football Union statement ahead of a press conference at England's training base later on Thursday.

"I am sure it will be some occasion on Saturday evening.

"The support at Twickenham last week was incredible with the crowd really getting behind us and will need them again this week to lift the players against a tough Wales team."

Wales, who beat Uruguay 54-9 in their World Cup opener in a 'Pool of Death' also featuring Australia, are set to name their side to play England later on Thursday.



15 Mike Brown, 14 Anthony Watson, 13 Brad Barritt, 12 Sam Burgess, 11 Jonny May, 10 Owen Farrell, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Chris Robshaw (captain), 6 Tom Wood, 5 Courtney Lawes, 4 Geoff Parling, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Tom Youngs, 1 Joe Marler

Substitutes: 16 Rob Webber, 17 Mako Vunipola, 18 Kieran Brookes, 19 Joe Launchbury, 20 James Haskell, 21 Richard Wigglesworth, 22 George Ford, 23 Alex Goode



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