This weekend saw England’s first warm up game for the 2015 Rugby World Cup at Twickenham, in South West London. The same location that will show the World Cup Final in a few months’ time.
The main talking point before the game had been the centre partnership between the two new caps, Sam Burgess and Henry Slade. Like in any organisation, employees need to offer contrasting skills, Burgess and Slade offer very different skill sets. Slade is a by the handbook fly half that has real vision and guile. He can play a number of positions because his core skills are so good.
Burgess is big, powerful man and is probably more of a natural rugby union flanker (the rugby handbook will list the key attributes) than a centre but again, has good core skills.
Slade and Burgess are playing for places in the final 31 man world cup squad that will be announced on or before the 31st August deadline. Lancaster will most likely take 4 centres and with JJ and Brad Barritt certainties, there are 2 places to play for and 4 employees to pick from (Slade, Burgess, Burrell and Twelvetrees).
This isn’t like a normal selection process where there would no doubt be some hiring guidelines in the Employee Handbook. There is no handbook for making this type of selection.
JJ and Brad Barritt are first choice centres, so that means a bruising beast at inside centre with a faster player at outside centre that is more of a footballer. If this is England plan, then Burgess is the natural back up to Barritt due to his size and physicality.
Unfortunately there is no replacement for JJ (Wasps Ellitt Daly is probably the closest but he was sent back to his club much earlier in the training camp – details on this will be in the employee handbook). Burrell has played at outside centre for England but he certainly isn’t going to frighten defenders like JJ will.
My gut tells me that Lancaster will go with Burgess and Burrell with Twelvetrees and Slade missing out. Twelvetrees has had enough opportunities to cement his place in the team and he has failed to do so.
His form for Gloucester has been woeful, and although he offer the attributes that Lancaster is looking for (size, distribution, kicking), he’s not consistently effective at any of them and I’ve lost count of the amount of 2 on 1’s he’s blown. Slade is much younger and hasn’t really had the opportunity and I think a home world cup may be 12 months too soon for him.
Unfortunately for Lancaster, there is no sure fire way detailed in the employee handbook that will give him all the answers. It’s done to gut feel!