ENGLAND head coach Stuart Lancaster believes codebreaker Sam Burgess possesses all the necessary attributes to force his way into his World Cup plans.
The 25-year-old remains on the sidelines after undergoing surgery on a serious facial injury sustained in the NRL Grand Final in Australia, prior to his switch from rugby league side South Sydney Rabbitohs to Premiership outfit Bath.
With Burgess set to return to competitive action in December, he joins a long list of potentially unavailable players for the upcoming autumn internationals, which includes Tom Youngs, Alex Corbisiero, Mako Vunipola, Dan Cole and Tom Croft.
Lancaster will name a 33-man squad for the QBE Series on 22 October, insisting he already knows 80 per cent of the players he intends to select in his World Cup squad, so while Burgess will not feature in any immediate plans the bigger picture remains a possibility.
“I’m very excited about Sam Burgess coming to rugby union,” said Lancaster. “What struck me when I first met him was not only exceptional rugby player but a leader, he is mentally tough and mentally strong.
“When we talk about the experience and leadership you need in a team, if he can learn the game he will bring an invaluable amount to the group. But obviously he has to learn the game first. He wants to make the World Cup squad and will have to learn quickly.”
Lancaster’s charges will go head-to-head with New Zealand, South Africa, Samoa and Australia at Twickenham this autumn, starting with the All Blacks on Saturday 16 November, as the build-up to next year’s World Cup on home soil intensifies.
And former World Cup-winning No8 Lawrence Dallaglio believes England need to overcome at least two of their rivals in order to prove they have the potential to lift the William Webb Ellis Cup.
“To win a World Cup you probably have to play and beat two of the southern hemisphere sides,” said Dallaglio. “If England came away with two southern hemisphere victories, that would show they are genuine World Cup contenders.”
Lancaster echoed Dallaglio’s sentiments and is adamant that the current break in Premiership rugby, as English clubs prepare to face continental opposition, will aid their preparation.
“We’re playing world class teams who are battle-hardened and ready,” added Lancaster. “The New Zealand-South Africa game last weekend was hugely physical but fortunately our players are now going into Europe and they will get a taste of the next level of intensity.”