England tipped to overhaul midfield for Wales clash
England are set to name Sam Burgess and Brad Barritt as their centre combination for Saturday's vital World Cup clash with Wales at Twickenham, according to reports.
Burgess and Barritt look set to start after Jonathan Joseph became a major doubt for the Twickenham showdown with a chest problem, prompting head coach Stuart Lancaster to take a radical look at his threequarter line.
An unexpected development in the reports in several national newspapers on Tuesday night, however, was the omission of George Ford having lost his place at fly-half to Owen Farrell.
The Farrell, Burgess, Barritt combination was the midfield trio that ran in training on Monday. Lancaster will formally name his line-up on Thursday morning.
Burgess' promotion to the starting XV would be an astonishing development given he has played only 112 minutes of international rugby and that he would be lining up opposite seasoned British and Irish Lions centre Jamie Roberts.
The 26-year-old impressed as a final-quarter replacement in Friday's 35-11 victory over Fiji when his direct running helped restore momentum to a team that was drifting, and Lancaster believes he is ready to start.
Barritt's place in the midfield was set in stone as soon as Joseph was injured, but Farrell's elevation above Ford would be another surprise.
Wales are expected to play their favoured power game at Twickenham and the selection of Farrell, Burgess and Barritt would draw a line in the sand over their intent to meet Warren Gatland's men head-on.
England backs coach Andy Farrell had stated that Joseph would be given Wednesday to prove his fitness, but it appears the Bath centre has now been ruled out. Farrell hinted on Tuesday that Farrell and Burgess were under strong consideration to play.
"Owen features in the centre conversation. He's been training there for 12 weeks," Farrell said.
"Sam is not necessarily next as an impact sub. It depends whether you want to make the impact or you want to go that way from the start and make that impact from the start.
"The start of the game is pretty important as well - how you get off and how you make the other team feel. I wouldn't just pigeon-hole him as an impact players, just like New Zealand wouldn't pigeon-hole Sonny Bill Williams.
"He's quite comfortable starting or coming off the bench and doing what's best for the team.
"There's all sorts of different permutations. We've got a couple of ideas in the back of our mind but we'll keep that until we need to."
The likely absence of Joseph has cleared a route for Alex Goode, who was outstanding in the first warm-up match against France last month, to make an appearance on the bench as full-back and fly-half cover.
Goode said: "Everyone's alert to their chances. It was never going to be the same team each week so everyone's constantly on heightened alert to try and push for places and play well.
"It's no different this week, and I guess it's up to the guys who aren't playing to keep pushing and knocking on that door.
"There's one person gone and that means there's a reshuffle. We need someone else to come in and then on the bench as well, so we'll see how that pans out."
Goode suggested a centre combination of his Saracens team-mates Farrell and Barritt would be very effective against Wales.
"We've seen it in big European games and Premiership semi-finals and it definitely has a certain way of playing. The strengths of the guys can work well, it brings out a different side to Owen," Goode said.
"He gets more time and space there and you can see that in his distribution working well and you still get the best qualities of Brad. I certainly would be comfortable with it, it wouldn't be a massive step. They have their communication and understanding already."