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Stuart Lancaster realises enormity of Wales and Australia World Cup matches

Published 24/09/2015

Toby Flood says George Ford, pictured, will be devastated to miss the game against Wales
Toby Flood says George Ford, pictured, will be devastated to miss the game against Wales

Stuart Lancaster accepts the visit of Wales and Australia to Twickenham over the next two weekends will define his stewardship as England's World Cup enters a critical phase.

The magnitude of Saturday's Pool A showdown with Warren Gatland's men was vast even before Lancaster dropped the selection bombshell of demoting George Ford at fly-half in favour of Owen Farrell and picking Sam Burges at inside centre.

But the radical overhaul of England's midfield after Jonathan Joseph was stricken by a chest injury, including the fielding of the 14th centre pairing of Lancaster's reign in Burgess and Brad Barritt, has added a new dimension to a match already billed as the biggest in the old rivals' long history.

Lancaster has been accused of gambling and abandoning his attacking philosophy shaped around the vision of Ford at a decisive moment in his three and a half year reign and while he denies the claims, he is aware his reputation is on the line.

When asked if the evaluation of his tenure hinged on the outcome against Wales, he replied: "It was always going to be the case for this game and the one against Australia.

"Clearly the selection has heightened it. If we win the game it will be judged a success. If we lose the game regardless of what selection I made, I'd be questioned.

"It will come down ultimately to the next two games. I understand the consequences and the stakes because it's the World Cup."

Of all the collisions looming at Twickenham on Saturday evening, it is the wince-inducing battle between 17-stones centres Burgess and Jamie Roberts that is the most anticipated.

It has been 11 months since Burgess switched codes and after only 112 minutes of Test rugby comprising of a solitary start and two substitute appearances, he must duel with a two-tour British and Irish Lion in possession of 73 caps.

On paper it is a mismatch, but Lancaster is banking on Burgess' "big game experience" in league to help him nullify Welsh battering ram Roberts while imposing his own power in attack.

"We haven't picked a side purely to defend but there's no doubt that Wales' attacking shape is based on front-foot ball from the gainline that's nine times out of 10 based around Roberts who'll either come down the 10 or 12 channel," Lancaster said.

"They might change things up, I'm sure they will, but a lot of their play will go through Jamie Roberts. We need to have good defenders to stop Wales on the gainline.

"Sam's certainly a good and powerful defender. But also I think he offers us a threat in attack. We don't always have to use the threat that he is. Sometimes you can bypass him."

According to his father Mike, Ford was "devastated and gutted" to have been relegated to the bench after England opted for the more dependable Farrell, but Lancaster has played down the significance of the selection.

"I've not brought in a guy who's got no experience. In my mind, they are both word-class players and we are just playing in a different way, a different order," he said.

"Obviously George is disappointed, but in the same way it is about how you deal with disappointment."

The arrival of the bench swept the game out of the reach of Fiji in Friday's bonus-point victory and it is hoped it will have the same impact against Gatland's 3/1 underdogs, although Lancaster insists the hard yards must be accumulated first.

"As the game goes on we can bring George on, move Owen out and bring Alex Goode on," he said.

"But we didn't win in Cardiff in February by playing shape, we came through by dominating and winning the gainline.

"We just want to finish the game as winners. It's not the only game and it's not the game that will decide definitively who will go out of the pool, but it's a huge game."

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