Rugby World Cup Watch – Should Burgess now start as England’s 12?
With Manu Tuilagi playing no part at the 2015 Rugby World Cup and having hardly featured for England for the past two years, there is a gaping hole in Stuart Lancaster’s set-up for a ball-carrying centre capable of battering his way through the opposition.
Brad Barritt is largely considered as England’s most reliable tackler and has been regularly picked at inside centre by Lancaster. Luther Burrell took on the challenge of playing at number 12 during the 6 Nations and now Sam Burgess was handed his international debut in the position during the World Cup warm-up win over France.
Barritt may be dependable, but he offers little in the way of big hits or creativity in the attacking sphere, while Burrell has the footwork and speed to be an additional threat when England have the ball, but isn’t a natural off-loader of possession.
Burgess marred his debut slightly by becoming the first England player to be sin-binned on a first international appearance, but his play, particularly up to that point, was impressive.
Although Barritt makes tackles, they are rarely dominant, game-changing ones that force attackers back beyond the gain line.
Inside 45 seconds Burgess provided a big hit on veteran French hooker Dimitri Szarzewski. Others followed on fellow centres Remi Lamerat and Alex Dumoulin.
He is just as reliable in the tackle as Barritt, while being capable of those bone-crunching thumps that provide inspiration to teammates and supporters alike. Burgess made 12 tackles against France and didn’t miss any.
Burgess would arguably be the best protector of England’s chief creative forces at scrum half and fly half, while having the handling capabilities to play a part in attacking moves too, especially in the way he presents the ball once tackled.
He doesn’t quite possess the pace or acceleration of Tuilagi or Burrell, but can still carry possession effectively and should be able to supply probable outside centre Jonathan Joseph quickly so he can use his nimble footwork to break opposing lines.
Question marks initially revolved around whether the Bath star would even make Lancaster’s final 31-man squad. It should now be whether he can be kept out of the starting line-up.
England are 7/2 second favourites to win the 2015 Rugby World Cup on home soil and, whether at centre or in the back row where he tends to operate for Bath, there is little doubt that Burgess should be playing a part.
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