Sam Burgess set for England Rugby World Cup squad but no room for Danny Cipriani
Sam Burgess is on the brink of inclusion in England's World Cup squad, but Danny Cipriani has missed out on a place among the final 31 to be announced on Thursday.
Burgess, Luther Burrell and Henry Slade have been competing for two of the four fiercely-contested centre berths and Slade and Burgess appear to have edged Burrell.
England hinted strongly last week that Burgess will be involved and all but wrote off Slade's chances, saying this autumn's showpiece will have come too early in the 22-year-old's career.
Their thinking appears to have taken a new direction, however, with Slade now back in contention and Burgess and Burrell to battle it out for the role of gainline bruiser as England prepare to reduce their 39-man training squad to 31.
Cipriani mounted a late challenge for selection, but Press Association Sport understands the utility back, who offers cover at fly-half and full-back, has not done enough to convince head coach Stuart Lancaster.
The 27-year-old's exclusion comes despite inspiring England's fightback in the 25-20 defeat by France in Paris on Saturday with a dynamic final-quarter cameo from the bench that saw him voted supporters' man of the match.
Number eight Nick Easter also performed a starring role as a late arrival at the Stade de France and will profit if it is deemed that picking Ben Morgan is too much of a risk, given he has played only 40 minutes since January because of a broken leg.
There are also loose ends to be tied up in the front row where Kieran Brookes, David Wilson and Alex Corbisiero are in contention and the second row where one of Dave Attwood and George Kruis will be culled. Corbisiero and Kruis are the likely departures.
Head coach Stuart Lancaster has presided over 41 Tests during his near four-year reign as head coach, yet reports have stated that the last training session of the summer camp on Wednesday will settle any outstanding issues.
England have been accused of dithering, their task complicated by an abject display in Paris that only improved when the bench was emptied.
It is only fringe places that are in question, but the uncertainty has fuelled speculation of a muddled selection policy. Forwards coach Graham Rowntree objects to the criticism.
"I disagree. Pretty much we know what we're doing, but there are still some key positions up for grabs," Rowntree said.
"As a player I would want to be considered to the last minute of the last session of the last day. We owe them that. Why shouldn't we do that?
"We know what we're doing but there are just certain positions which are more competitive than we thought they'd be. That's great."
Nowhere is competition more intense that in the centres, with Burgess, Burrell and Slade competing to join Brad Barritt and Jonathan Joseph at the World Cup.
Slade's selection would be a triumph for guile over brawn, as seen in the Exeter playmaker's only cap to date when he had a hand in all three tries as France were dispatched 19-14 at Twickenham on August 15.
"Henry has that bit of vision and decision-making that comes from playing a fair bit of rugby at fly-half," Exeter director of rugby Rob Baxter told Press Association Sport.
"We saw the benefit of having a playmaker in the centres against France. Yes you can lose the crash it up option, but often now defences are so good that it's sometimes movement of the ball, lines of running and putting people into space that creates the breakthrough moments."