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Lancaster: No decision on centres

Published 18/08/2015

Luther Burrell starts at inside centre against France on Saturday
Luther Burrell starts at inside centre against France on Saturday

England head coach Stuart Lancaster insists selecting his centres for the World Cup is a decision that will go down to the wire, but appears to be closing in on his preferred quartet.

Brad Barritt, who has a calf injury but would have been rested for the trip to Paris anyway, and Jonathan Joseph are the only certainties to be involved in the global showpiece on home soil.

Slugging it out for the two remaining spots are Luther Burrell, Billy Twelvetrees, Sam Burgess and Henry Slade, with Burrell and Joseph starting Saturday's clash with France.

Lancaster has demanded a big performance from Burrell, who will play himself into the final 31-man squad if he delivers at the Stade de France in the second of England's three warm-up games, while outsider Twelvetrees has been given another chance off the bench.

The debutants in Saturday's 19-14 victory over Les Bleus are experiencing mixed fortunes, however, with Lancaster appearing to endorse Burgess' claim while hinting this World Cup may have come too early for Slade.

Both players acquitted themselves well at Twickenham, Burgess proving destructive in defence and Slade bringing a spark of creativity, but the former now seems the more likely pick for England 2015.

"That particular decision around the centre combination will go down to the wire. Sam's been impressive. What he did on Saturday is only what he's been doing in training," Lancaster said.

"I thought Henry did very well. There were one or two areas I thought he could have improved on, which he agreed with.

"I set out the context of this selection but also where I see life after the World Cup as well.

"For people like Slade it's also about the next two weeks, the two months and the next two years as well."

It is hard to envisage Twelvetrees featuring among the final quartet having been entrusted with only two replacement appearances against France, but Burrell has been given orders to go out and secure his spot.

"Luther is desperate to get a game. He was a big part of our Six Nations when he formed a very effective centre partnership Joseph," Lancaster said.

"Between the three of them they're itching to get out there and prove a point. When you're sat on the sideline and you see two centres go well, you have to step up.

"This is a good test for Luther because he knows he'll be up against two quality French centres.

"It will be a big test for him to see if he can deal with the pressure. If we're going to be successful at the World Cup, players like him need to deliver on the big stage."

Prop Alex Corbisiero is troubled by sciatic nerve pain, ruling him out of Saturday, and Lancaster insists he needs to prove his fitness. Kieran Brookes, who can also cover loosehead and tighthead, would profit from any injury to Corbisiero.

"The clock is ticking and we need to see him train, if not by the end of this week then by next week. I don't know long sciatic pain takes to settle," Lancaster said.

Full-back Mike Brown makes his first appearance since facing France in March after recovering from concussion and his Harlequins team-mate Chris Robshaw is back at the helm.

Number eight Nick Easter is named on the bench in his only opportunity to apply pressure on Ben Morgan, while the favoured second row pairing of Joe Launchbury and Courtney Lawes are reunited for the first time in a year.

Directing operations at half-back are Ben Youngs and George Ford, while Jack Nowell is given the stage to show what he can do after wing rivals May and Anthony Watson dazzled Twickenham last weekend.

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