Sam Burgess call 'won't make or break England World Cup bid'

By Jeremy GuscottRugby union analyst, BBC Sport
Sam Burgess (right) talks to Luther Burrell at England training
Burgesss has an incredible mental resilience and is physically imposing

Sam Burgess in. Luther Burrell out. It was always going to be a massive headline.

We all feel sorry for Luther but these are the tough calls you get in elite sport and in big selections are big careers made.

This decision doesn't make or break England's World Cup campaign though, certainly not on the field. What we don't know is how much of an influence Burgess might have off the field, and that is what makes it a big call.

It must have been an incredibly close shout and a gut instinct call by coach Stuart Lancaster. He knows Burrell well, having coached him at a young age, and most of Burrell's England performances have been good.

There is not a lot separating him and Sam defensively, though maybe hit-wise, Sam just edges it. But positionally and understanding the breakdown, trying to win ball, steal ball and clear players out, Luther has a clear advantage. Judging Sam on what we have seen, it is difficult to justify him taking Burrell's place.

Burgess has unrivalled mental toughness

Sam's Test debut against France at Twickenham showed he's picking the game up; he made some good hard offensive tackles and carried the ball as hard and direct as Luther has. But he still looks a little out of place at the breakdown, where it's not natural for him to look for the ball or quickly clear players out of the way.

That said, I don't think it is a massive risk England are taking with Sam. More than any other player in the squad, I think Sam has a mental toughness that is unrivalled. His make-up as a person is not in question. There is a lot to be said for that mental hardness and resilience and being able to take anything thrown at you in international rugby. It gives him an edge.

I think Sam's influence is going to be more as a squad member than a starting player. I don't see Sam as a number one pick at inside or outside centre, so I think his playing time will be limited. He will probably start against Uruguay in their final pool match, depending on how things have gone.

The first-choice centres will be Brad Barritt and Jonathan Joseph, and Henry Slade is more likely to be on the bench than Burgess because of the options he provides. So rightly or wrongly, I can see Sam being more influential off the field and in the group than on the field.

The biggest test of Burgess's selection would be if Barritt got a short-term injury and Sam had to step in against Australia or Wales or both while Barritt recovered.

That would be the real test of Lancaster's selection, because a fit Barritt is crucial to England's game-plan. Would he jettison Brad and rush Burrell back in as a replacement or rely on Sam to cover that slot and play Barritt's role?

Slade's natural instinct gives him an edge

Slade's selection is a good one. The 22-year-old has had a fantastic season and looked at home playing first-team rugby at such a young age. He then carried that composure and assuredness through to his first Test against France.

Henry Slade runs with the ball on his Test debut against France
Slade, 22, took to Test rugby with ease on his debut against France

He looked incredibly comfortable and deserves to be in the squad, just on that one performance alone. I would pick him to start a game at the World Cup.

His natural instinct gives him the edge over others because he can anticipate what a player will do. His skill-set allows him to manipulate a player to do what he wants them to do.

Slade will offer England a point of difference from the gain-line smashers you have in Barritt and Burgess, and even the speed of Joseph at outside.

He offers Lancaster what he's always wanted in an inside centre, a distributor and tactical kicker but I'm not yet convinced England's style suits that player because getting over the gain-line - route one and quickly, rather than subtly - is England's way.

Slade can be used to open up a game with his running and distribution or close it down with his kicking; he gives Lancaster options which will be handy.

Cipriani omission 'the right call'

Danny Cipriani is very unfortunate not to be picked. If the squad was picked solely on the two matches we've seen against France, then his 17-minute performance in Paris warranted selection.

Danny Cipriani scores a try against France
Cipriani's enterprising cameo in Paris ultimately proved fruitless

But rightly George Ford and Owen Farrell get the nod at fly-half because of their consistency over the last 18 months. Ford has been one of the players of the season and Farrell is proven quality.

Unfortunately, Cipriani hasn't been able to produce the scintillating form of his earlier career, although the cameo last weekend was very close. Mike Brown is our number one full-back, and Alex Goode plays there regularly for Saracens and has had a successful season, so he deserves his place.

It's a tough call but I feel it's the right one.

Should Nick Easter have been included?

For me Nick Easter hasn't quite been able to transfer his massive performances for Harlequins into the international scene for England; he's incredibly influential for his club and has been playing brilliant rugby for the last few seasons.

Again, like Cipriani, he did well when he came on against France last week but let's remember France had packed up and were heading for home because the game was won with 20 minutes to go.

Ben Morgan was player of the autumn series last year. That doesn't and shouldn't guarantee you selection but I've not seen Nick have that kind of influence for England.

Easter could cover second row if you needed it but England don't because the second row is packed with quality. I don't believe many are surprised he has not made the final 31.

Nick Easter carries the ball against France
Easter, now 37, featured in England's last two World Cup campaigns

Is this squad capable of winning the World Cup?

Most World Cup-winning sides have been pretty settled in selection 18 months out from the start of the tournament, and England have struggled in terms of having a settled team that picks itself.

This squad is capable of winning the World Cup, but it's hugely dependent on their forwards fronting up.

England have a very competitive pack who should be in the best physical condition of their lives, but so will every other tier-one side. The difference will be how they set themselves up mentally to get the job done.

The last performance in Paris was shambolic to the point of embarrassing for certain players. If it happens again, England won't get out of their pool.

But England have proved under Lancaster, as with most coaches before, that they are very difficult to beat at home. That's a big advantage and should serve them well.

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