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OPINION – Lancaster’s decision to pick Henry Slade and Sam Burgess over Luther Burrell and Billy Twelvetrees was a risky one, but one that will pay dividends as the World Cup progresses. Both men showed their worth in the first match against France at Twickenham in very different ways but demonstrated what a destructive combination they can make.
Slade with his ‘sleight of hand’ and fantastic distribution in the backs as well as his rugby brain that continues to develop and impress and Burgess with his brute strength and force in attack and defence and his improving technical ability.
It’s safe to say that prior to the World Cup warm up matches against France no one expected to see both Slade and Burgess in the final 31-man squad. But it demonstrates Lancaster’s progression in his ability to identify areas that could be improved by making difficult decisions that other’s would perceive as risky and brash.
He could have easily gone with Jonathan Joseph, Barritt, Burrell and Twelvetrees who all featured in the Six Nations earlier this year and played it safe. However he’s identified what a threat Slade and Burgess offer and made, what many suggest, is the correct decision.
Henry Slade: It has surfaced that, despite what many people might have thought, it was Slade as opposed to Burgess that was the closest to being omitted from Lancaster’s squad in favour of Luther Burrell. This begs the question as to where the 22 year old fits in the pecking order but given his ability to cover 10, 12 and 13, he’s definitely going to play a significant part of England’s World Cup campaign.
He continues to demonstrate the levels that have impressed Lancaster and seizes the opportunity he’s been given. The skill-set he displayed in his debut performance against France has revealed a player who is far beyond his years. And it is this threat that will prove to be very useful for England as having the knack of always making the right decision is a trait that not many players of his age and experience possesses. The promise of him playing alongside the dangerous Jonathan Joseph is mouth watering given how much space he creates around him and I’m sure Joseph will be relishing the opportunity to utilise Slade’s abilities.
Sam Burgess: Maybe his inclusion was inevitable given the hype around his transition from league to union, but his selection is justified. What Burgess brings to the team is the x-factor, similar to that of Sonny Bill Williams and what he brings to the All Blacks – every opposing centre will have their eye on him, particularly in defence given how forceful he is in the tackle.
Burgess is more than just physical; his distribution has come on in leaps and bounds, and although his positioning is wayward at times, as he gains more experience he will develop and improve. Burgess can only get better and hopefully we see this during the World Cup.
Slade and Burgess’s inclusion is an exciting one and it is a very exciting prospect to see them combine in the World Cup at some stage. While it is unlikely that Lancaster will start such inexperienced players alongside each other against any of the big guns, they showed in one of the World Cup warm-up matches that they have huge potential.
In reality, England’s chances of World Cup glory won’t come down to the inclusion of Burgess and Slade but their presence will be hugely positive for the squad. In saying that, it’s far too early to know whether they will play an important role in the tournament however, they need to be given ample time on the park to continue to develop and justify their places in the squad.
This Saturday’s final warm up match against Ireland provides the perfect base to do this and, providing how well they performed in their first warm-up game playing together, must prove that they can repeat that performance.