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Alex Spink: Last chance for Burgess as England tell fringe players it’s now or never

14 Aug | BY Betway | MIN READ TIME |
Alex Spink: Last chance for Burgess as England tell fringe players it’s now or never

Ahead of France's Twickenham visit, the Daily Mirror rugby correspondent dissects Stuart Lancaster's sharpening World Cup blade

The last time England played a Rugby World Cup on home soil they took their first warm-up game to Anfield and found themselves almost walking alone.

A paltry 7,500 fans turned up to see Clive Woodward’s team of future world beaters pump a so-called Premiership All Stars XV 67-14. 

Austin Healey, an Evertonian, relished scoring four tries at the home of the Toffees’ arch-rivals, but frankly there was little else to write home about.

Four years later and 11 of the team on duty that night at Anfield had World Cup winners medals hung around their necks in Sydney, after an unbeaten campaign which followed winning two of their three warm-up matches.

In 2007 Brian Ashton’s team lost two of their three tune-up fixtures, both to France incidentally, before going on to become surely the most improbable World Cup finalists ever.

And last time round Martin Johnson’s Six Nations champions sandwiched defeat in Cardiff between wins over Wales and Ireland before heading to New Zealand for a campaign frankly best forgotten.

From which we can conclude very little, other than that these games are more about the process of eliminating players from enlarged training squads than providing clues as to a team’s success or failure come tournament time.

Saturday, I suspect, will be no different. France come to Twickenham 127 days on from their memorable last visit. England want to win of course, but the focus on the result will be nothing like it was when the sides contested that sensational Six Nations finale. 

6/1 – England to win by 16-20 points

Head coach Stuart Lancaster wants answers of a different sort, chief amongst which is can Sam Burgess really be the missing piece in England’s midfield jigsaw?

The rugby league great wins his first cap, picked at inside-centre despite his club Bath believing him to be a better bet as a back row forward.

England must perm two centres from Burgess, Henry Slade, Luther Burrell and Billy Twelvetrees. Slade, a raw but stylish footballer, also makes his debut, at outside-centre.

Up front, props Kieran Brookes, Alex Corbisiero and David Wilson battle it out for two spots in Lancaster’s final 31-man squad, the uncapped Luke Cowan-Dickie gets a chance to stake his claim to be the third hooker, and George Kruis and Dave Attwood compete for one spot on the second row roster.

England have not lost at Twickenham this year. With all bar one of their World Cup matches being played there now is not the time to screw up. 

There is much at stake therefore. Which is why a crowd eight times the size of that Anfield gate back in 1999 will be on hand. England these days never walk alone.

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