England ignores France-based stars, calls up Burgess for RWC
The last two players of the year in European club rugby were overlooked when England announced its 50-man training squad for the Rugby World Cup on Wednesday.
Yet there was room for a rugby-league convert just 19 games into his union career.
England coach Stuart Lancaster made a number of difficult calls when he named his enlarged group for the tournament, notably in omitting Steffon Armitage and Nick Abendanon — the last two European players of the year — because they play in France.
Since 2011, England has had a policy of not picking overseas-based players except in “exceptional circumstances” — and Lancaster was not prepared to activate that clause.
“We want to see all of our players play for English clubs,” Lancaster said. “We believe it’s our responsibility as national coaches to protect the health of the English game.
“We also believe the commitment of players who have decided to stay in England would be eroded if we selected those who are based overseas. It was a difficult decision, but we feel it was the right one.”
Armitage, in particular, was making a strong case for inclusion after three years of impressive displays for reigning three-time European champion Toulon.
Sam Burgess survived the cut after barely half a year in the 15-man game following his high-profile cross-code switch from Australian side South Sydney Rabbitohs in the NRL.
Burgess has played at center and as a flanker, faring better in the back row, and appears to have picked more on reputation, potential and his leadership qualities rather than on form.
“A player of Sam’s ability has points of difference in the game, and those are good running lines in attack, a good defense and causing some havoc as far as the contact area is concerned. We are pretty open-minded,” England defense coach Andy Farrell said.
Burgess is likely to be used as a center by England and his chances of making the final squad of 31 — named on Aug. 31 — were improved when fellow midfielder Manu Tuilagi was told last week he won’t be considered for selection following his conviction for assaulting a taxi driver and two female police offices in a late-night incident in April.
Tuilagi had been a doubt because of a long-standing groin injury, anyway.
Winger Chris Ashton, widely regarded as the best finisher in England, was recalled after doubts over his defensive game led him to being dropped by Lancaster for much of the last 18 months.
His only international appearances in that time came as a replacement in two tests in tests in New Zealand last June, when England sent a weakened squad.
Maro Itoje, a versatile 20-year-old forward, was one of five uncapped players to make the cut. He was captain of the England side that won the under-20 world championship last year, and has forced his way into the starting team at Saracens. Like with Burgess, Itoje’s versatility could prove key to his chances of being included in the final squad.
The other uncapped players are Burgess, flyhalf Henry Slade, center Elliot Daly, and hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie.
Fullback Ben Foden, scrumhalf Joe Simpson and flanker Tom Croft were not included because of injury but could come into late consideration.
The provisional squad will gather on June 22. England plays warm-up matches against France (home and away), and Ireland at Twickenham before the World Cup on home soil.
England’s first pool game is against Fiji on Sept. 18.
England squad: Chris Ashton, Dave Attwood, Brad Barritt, Kieran Brookes, Mike Brown, Luther Burrell, Sam Burgess, Danny Care, Danny Cipriani, Calum Clark, Dan Cole, Alex Corbisiero, Luke Cowan-Dickie, Elliot Daly, Lee Dickson, Kyle Eastmond, Nick Easter, Owen Farrell, George Ford, Alex Goode, Dylan Hartley, James Haskell, Maro Itoje, Jonathan Joseph, Courtney Lawes, Joe Launchbury, George Kruis, Matt Kvesic, Joe Marler, Jonny May, Stephen Myler, Ben Morgan, Matt Mullan, Jack Nowell, Geoff Parling, Chris Robshaw, Henry Slade, Ed Slater, David Strettle, Billy Twelvetrees, Mako Vunipola, Billy Vunipola, Anthony Watson, Rob Webber, Richard Wigglesworth, David Wilson, Tom Wood, Marland Yarde, Ben Youngs, Tom Youngs.