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Alex Spink: England can not yet justify left-field selection of Burgess in the centres

21 Aug | BY Betway | MIN READ TIME |
Alex Spink: England can not yet justify left-field selection of Burgess in the centres

England's World Cup gamble on a league convert paid off in 2007, but the Daily Mirror rugby union correspondent believes they can't afford another

Eight years ago England picked a rugby league superstar to play at inside centre against France in a World Cup warm-up match.

There was plenty of opposition to Andy Farrell’s selection beforehand, and after the French won the game the press didn’t get any kinder.

Yet England took Farrell to the World Cup and while he didn’t pull up any trees in his three appearances the champion attitude he had built in league served the squad well with England reaching the final.

Last weekend history repeated itself when the number 12 jersey was worn against France by another league great in Sam Burgess. He too has little union experience and will probably also go to the World Cup, now less than a month away.

The question of whether that would be the right decision is currently a subject of fierce debate up and down the land. Given that the end result tends to be the judge of such matters, it is a difficult one to answer at this juncture.

My feeling, that Burgess has received preferential treatment his performances do not merit, is emphatically rejected by the England hierarchy.

With only four available places for centres, I struggle to see how they could justify picking him ahead of any of Brad Barritt, Jonathan Joseph, Luther Burrell or Henry Slade.

He has played 19 games of union and while he acquitted himself reasonably well against France on his England debut, it was a second-string French midfield and he was a long way from perfect – as would anyone be with so little experience of playing rugby union. 

Sam has done incredibly well to get himself to the level he is at now where he is even in with a shot.

But that is not the point. England are not in a developmental stage at the start of a four-year World Cup cycle. 

They are at the sharp end, one game away from committing to a group of players the vast majority of whom have spent their entire careers acquiring the tools necessary to deliver at this level.

Without the unavailable Manu Tuilagi, who self-destructed with his off-field behaviour, head coach Stuart Lancaster is right that England are light on powerful midfield ball carriers. 

There is a balance to be struck between piano players and piano shifters, as people in rugby like to say.

But there is also more to centre play than brute force. You need vision, distribution and kicking skills.

My one hope is that there is no hidden agenda come decision day. That if Burgess is preferred to two of Slade, Billy Twelvetrees and Burrell – who starts in Paris on Saturday – it is clear to see why. 

That’s not too much to ask, is it?

France v England match betting