Why England are overhauling their midfield ahead of the key clash with Wales
England are to take the bold step of selecting Owen Farrell, Sam Burgess and Brad Barritt for Saturday's World Cup clash with Wales. Here Press Association Sport analyses the selection.
Q: What are the changes that have been made?
Rather than replacing the injured Jonathan Joseph in a straight swap, the management have undertaken a radical overhaul of their midfield trio. George Ford has been dropped at fly-half and Owen Farrell selected in his place, Burgess starts at inside centre and defensive lynchpin Brad Barritt moves down the line to outside centre. Henry Slade, who excelled on his debut against France last month, does not appear to have been under consideration.
Q: Why have the changes been made?
Stuart Lancaster will outline his thinking at Thursday's team announcement, but the selection is designed to place a brick wall in front of Wales' power game - dubbed 'Warrenball' in a nod to their head coach Warren Gatland - and offer the muscular presence needed for penetration in attack. Ford is a weak link in defence and was targeted by Fiji on Friday, so has been removed from the equation. Instead, when the likes of George North, Jamie Roberts and Toby Faletau are sent down the 10 channel they will face the more rugged Farrell, while Burgess and Barritt will hold the line in the centres. The trio also provide the greatest force as carriers.
Q: Why do England have the blinkers on?
The removal of Ford from the starting XV has unquestionably reduced England's attacking repertoire, but the management view the sledgehammer and not the rapier as the weapon required to wound Wales. Shaun Edwards' defensive system places 14 players in a line with the full-back patrolling the space behind, offering little scope to probe out wide. Instead, England will seek to run through their opponents and wear them down before summoning the cavalry from the bench, among their number Ford who will step into the fray with the objective of broadening the game plan.
Q: Is it a gamble?
Barritt's inclusion was a formality and while Farrell lacks the vision of Ford, a strong case can be argued for his return to the starting XV. The faith shown in Burgess, however, is harder to explain and has been based primarily on his progress in training throughout the summer. A solid debut against France and a strong cameo off the bench against Fiji have been the highlights of his 112 minutes of international rugby, but Wales in the World Cup with Roberts awaiting is a different prospect to the Islanders. England are confident Burgess is ready to start, but if there is any union naivety after only 10 months in the code, it will be exposed by Roberts. Any judgement must be saved for 10pm Saturday evening, however.
Q: What is at stake?
Apart from the result in a critical World Cup pool match against old foes Wales, the reputation of Lancaster and his coaching lieutenants Andy Farrell and Graham Rowntree are on the line. If Burgess succeeds and England win, their judgement will be acclaimed throughout the land. If Burgess bombs and England lose, the knives will be sharpened to a chorus of "told you so". The fate of England, Lancaster and Burgess are seemingly entwined, it is that big a call.