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Stuart Lancaster says he has not gambled by picking Sam Burgess for England

Published 27/08/2015

Head coach Stuart Lancaster found the selection of England's 31-man World Cup squad to be an emotional experience
Head coach Stuart Lancaster found the selection of England's 31-man World Cup squad to be an emotional experience

Stuart Lancaster denies England have gambled by selecting Sam Burgess and Henry Slade among an inexperienced centre contingent bound for the World Cup.

Two weeks ago Lancaster stated it would be a "big step" to include Burgess and Slade alongside Brad Barritt and Jonathan Joseph in the final 31-man squad due to their lack of Test experience.

Days later they made strong debuts in the 19-14 victory over France at Twickenham and after impressing throughout the summer-long training camp, Lancaster took the bold step on Thursday of naming both in his World Cup squad.

It means England's four centres have only 36 caps - 22 of them supplied by Barritt - but Lancaster is satisfied he settled upon the right blend of centres.

"I wouldn't say it's a risk, it's exciting. The France game at Twickenham was a key moment for Henry and Sam and was a reflection of what we had seen in training over the last eight weeks. They both delivered," Lancaster said.

"The impact both have made in training is huge. On Wednesday it was the same. There never is one moment in selection. It is a picture you build up over time. They have both been excellent and deserve their chance."

Burgess won the battle of the gainline bruisers after Luther Burrell was told by Lancaster on Thursday morning that he had lost out to the player who switched codes from rugby league 10 months ago.

It was a tight call that had clearly taken an emotional toll on Lancaster, but the head coach was ultimately swayed by the presence of Burgess in attack and defence.

"Sam certainly brings physicality at 116kgs and is as quick as any of our centres, except for Joseph, and certainly as quick as Luther," Lancaster said.

"He is powerful and understands and reads defences very well. He is a very aggressive tackler, but one of main attributes that goes unnoticed more than anything else is that he runs effective lines, even when he doesn't get the ball."

The inclusion of Slade will delight all who saw his clever hands open up France at Twickenham on August 15 -he helped set up each of England's three tries - and not least as Lancaster appeared to indicate last week that this World Cup had come too early for the 22-year-old from Exeter.

However, Lancaster revealed that it was a conversation that took place after the squad's two-week training camp in Denver that set Slade, who can cover fly-half and both centre positions, on the correct path.

"I told him if you are going to into this World Cup squad, I need to see your presence and your personality. I need to see more of it. He is a quiet lad," Lancaster said.

"He is not one to shout about himself, but he has just developed confidence within the group. On the field, his presence has gone through the roof. He has really opened up a lot of options for us."

While Lancaster expressed his anguish at having to tell all eight of the players who were culled from the squad that they would not be part of the World Cup, the omission of Burrell was clearly the most agonising.

"It was tough, in all sorts of ways really, going back to the emotional connection with someone you have developed as an academy player and you have worked with since he was 15 years old," Lancaster said.

"I don't think for one minute that this is Luther Burrell's last chance to play for England. He's only 27, so he's got another World Cup in him."

Ben Morgan, who made his comeback from the broken leg suffered in January to face France on August 15, edged Nick Easter at number eight when he confirmed his fitness on Wednesday afternoon.

"At the end when we are doing fitness, we have all the back rows in a line sprinting up and down the pitch. Ben is definitely up to that speed," Lancaster said.

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