England are ready to thrust international rookie Sam Burgess into frontline Rugby World Cup action against Wales at Twickenham on Saturday should centre Jonathan Joseph fail to recover from a chest injury, according to backs coach Andy Farrell.
Joseph, who scored four tries during this year’s Six Nations, has emerged as an injury doubt for England’s pivotal Pool A clash after missing training yesterday, while a decision on his availability is set to be made today.
One option available to England’s hierarchy if Joseph is ruled out would be rugby league convert Burgess, despite the former South Sydney Rabbitohs star only chalking up 112 minutes of Test action in his fledging union career.
“Everyone was talking about whether Sam was or wasn’t going to be ready, but we know what we see every week in training and we back everyone if they were to be picked in the starting tea,” said Farrell, who himself switched from league to union in 2005.
“When we picked the 31-man squad we were confident that everyone could do a job for us and we have to make sure everyone is comfortable in starting.
“JJ has a bit of a knock, nothing too serious and we’re working hard to get him fit. We’ll give JJ every chance to prove his fitness. If he’s not, then it’s only a week long injury.”
Burgess impressed off the bench on Friday after replacing Brad Barritt as England began their World Cup campaign with a bonus-point 35-11 victory over Fiji, although both players’ preferred position is at inside centre.
Exeter’s Henry Slade, who has one England cap, is the other specialist centre in the squad, while Owen Farrell can also deputise in the midfield, as he did against Samoa during last year’s autumn internationals.
Lancaster opted against selecting Northampton’s Luther Burrell, who started every Six Nations clash this year alongside Joseph.
“Everyone gets super excited about the partnership of the centres but the balance is not just for the backline, it’s for the team. We’ve always said that. We’ll do what’s right for the team,” added Farrell Sr.
A potential solution to head coach Stuart Lancaster’s conundrum would be shifting Barritt to outside centre and bringing in either Burgess or Farrell at 12, a flexible approach which the South African-born 29-year-old believes proves his side’s strength.
“It will be a shame to miss JJ, but we will see how it progresses now with the medics,” said Barritt. “I’m prepared to do whatever is best for the team. It’s great to have that versatility.”