Former rugby league star Sam Burgess is to make his England debut in the 15-man code in a Rugby World Cup warm-up game against France on Saturday.
Ten months after his high-profile cross-code switch, Burgess is to play his first game for his country at inside center — despite making a bigger impression at flanker in his half-season with club side Bath.
Burgess is one of three uncapped players — along with fellow center Henry Slade and flanker Calum Clark — selected in a team filled largely with reserves looking to stake their claim for a place in England’s final 31-man squad for the World Cup.
“We will see if Sam can translate what he’s done in training, which is clearly good, otherwise I wouldn’t have taken this chance to look at him against France,” Lancaster said of a player seen as England’s answer to New Zealand cross-code star Sonny Bill Williams.
“I’m open-minded about what Sam can do — this isn’t the team that’s going to play against Fiji in our first World Cup game, this is the team to look at options,” Lancaster said. “We need a balance in our backline, a balance of ball players, carriers and finishers. Sam ticks the ball-carrier box.”
No. 8 Ben Morgan is back from a broken leg for his first England appearance this year, while Tom Wood is to captain the team in Chris Robshaw’s absence.
Of the starting lineup, only winger Anthony Watson was a first-choice starter in this year’s Six Nations.
After months of debate, Lancaster will finally learn whether his faith in Burgess has been worth it.
The 26-year-old Burgess is only under consideration as a center option, not at flanker. There are five other centers in England’s enlarged training squad and Burgess would be a gamble to make the cut on Aug. 31.
This is likely to be Burgess’ only start before that date. England play France away on Aug. 22 before their buildup program is completed with a game against Ireland on Sept. 5.
“We are going out to win the game and we will play with positive intent, a high tempo game,” Lancaster said.
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