England head coach Stuart Lancaster insists the selection of Sam Burgess does not represent a gamble after naming the rugby league convert in his 31-man World Cup squad yesterday.
Burgess switched codes less than a year ago and only made his international debut in England’s opening warm-up match against France at Twickenham earlier this month.
Despite operating predominantly in the back-row for club side Bath last season, Burgess is one of four centres named in the squad, with Northampton’s Luther Burrell, who started every match of the Six Nations, and Billy Twelvetrees missing out.
“I wouldn’t describe it as a gamble,” said Lancaster. “I understand the size of this decision, Every one is a big one.
“He’s done great. He’s earned the right. He’s picked on merit from what we’ve seen in the camp.”
Backs coach Andy Farrell appreciates more than most how arduous the transition from rugby league to union can be, having switched codes himself in 2005 before playing in the World Cup two years later.
“To force our hand to put him into the squad, he should be unbelievably proud of himself,” he said.
The highest-profile casualty from the players on duty in England’s two warm-up matches is Sale’s Danny Cipriani, who staked his claim with an enterprising showing off the bench against France in Paris last weekend.
Cipriani was vying for inclusion at either full-back or his favoured fly-half position, but lost out to Mike Brown and Alex Goode at No15 and George Ford and Owen Farrell at No10.
“I can reassure everyone that 100 per cent in training everybody has had an opportunity to put themselves forward,” added Lancaster. “With only two warm-up games, it’s difficult.
“It’s tough on Danny. He is a good player. We think he’s improved an awful lot.”
Lancaster included Gloucester’s back-row forward Ben Morgan in his squad, despite him playing only 40 minutes of competitive rugby since breaking his leg in January, at the expense of Harlequins veteran Nick Easter.
Prop Kieran Brookes got the nod over British and Irish Lion Alex Corbisiero at loose-head, with second row Dave Attwood, flanker Calum Clark and hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie the others to miss the cut.
Lancaster revealed the torturous nature of having to tell players their fate, but was also adamant that opportunity may yet knock for some of those omitted from the squad.
“It’s been a real rollercoaster,” said Lancaster. “The guys who haven’t made it are retained in the wider squad. History will tell us one or two will get an opportunity.”