England coach, Stuart Lancaster, has today named his squad of players that he hopes has the capability to win the upcoming Rugby World Cup. With the added pressure of being the host nation, Lancaster and his players realise that they face a huge challenge to lift the William Webb Ellis trophy for the second time.
The discussions that have dominated rugby columns throughout the world finally have their answer, with Lancaster naming Rugby League convert Sam Burgess in the England squad. The 26-year-old Burgess completes a remarkable rise through the Rugby Union ranks since joining Bath from the South Sydney Rabbitohs at the end of last year (story here). Being utilised by Bath predominately at flanker, Lancaster has chosen to select Burgess as centre, with Lancaster commenting that, “he’s earned the right, I wouldn’t describe it as a gamble”.
Burgess has been selected in place of Luther Burrell who has been a mainstay in England’s midfield over the last two seasons. During that time, England have scored over 30 tries in only 10 internationals and the selection of Burgess could be seen to be extremely harsh on Burrell.
Many former professionals, including England’s World Cup winning captain Martin Johnson, feel that Burgess is a raw talent but that next month’s tournament is too soon for Burgess. Sir Clive Woodward, who masterminded England’s World Cup victory in 2003, feels that the tournament is 12 months too soon for Burgess.
Danny Cipriani has also missed out on selection, despite putting in a solid performance from the bench against France on Saturday. Lancaster has instead chosen to select only two fly-halves with Owen Farrell and George Ford getting the nod, with Alex Goode and Mike Brown covering full-back.
The squad named by Lancaster has talent but does lack game-changing superstars. England’s success in 2003 was built on players such as Jason Robinson being able to unlock the defence of any side, but the class of 2015 lacks such quality. Players such as Jonny May and Jonathan Joseph do have pace to burn and the skills to match but have, as yet, to prove this against the southern hemisphere heavyweights.
Only three players named by Lancaster have passed the 50-cap mark – Danny Care, Dan Cole and James Haskell, with only prop Dan Cole being a regular starter for England this season. The 14 backs selected have only 290 caps between them, highlighting the fact, that if England are to win the World Cup for a second time, they will have to disprove the perception that you need an experienced squad to do so.
With the dilemma of squad selection complete, Lancaster and his coaching staff now have the task of moulding the squad of 31 into a side that have the ability to firstly negotiate their ‘group of death’ including rivals Wales and Australia, and then try to emulate the class of 2003 by lifting the World Cup.
England’s Rugby World Cup squad:
Full-back – Brown (Harlequins), Goode (Saracens)
Wing – Nowell (Exeter), May (Gloucester), Watson (Bath)
Centre– Joseph (Bath), Barritt (Saracens), Slade (Exeter), Burgess (Bath)
Fly-half – Ford (Bath), Farrell (Saracens)
Scrum-half – B Youngs (Leicester), Care (Harlequins), Wigglesworth (Saracens)
Hooker – T Youngs (Leicester), Webber (Bath), George (Saracens)
Prop – Marler (Harlequins), M Vunipola (Saracens), Cole (Leicester), Wilson (Bath), Brookes (Northampton)
Second-row – Lawes (Northampton), Launchbury (Wasps), Parling (Exeter Chiefs), Kruis (Saracens)
Flanker – Haskell (Wasps), Robshaw (Harlequins), Wood (Northampton)
No 8 – Morgan (Gloucester), B Vunipola (Saracens)