5 Uncapped Englishmen Who Could Earn 2015 World Cup Places
England’s players returned from their Denver training camp last weekend and will now have one month left to earn their places in Stuart Lancaster’s World Cup squad.
A week’s rest after their journey home will be followed by a key week in the schedule, as assistant coach Andy Farrell told the Guardian’s Paul Rees:
"They will face an important week in training because we will have to make a selection decision at the end of it. We have not made up our minds about exactly how many players will be cut, but the squad could be reduced to 36 or 38."
And that will put the pressure on the players regarded as on the squad's fringes, particularly those with no Test match experience.
It is rare that teams with too many callow players win major tournaments, but that’s not to say some of the as-yet uncapped members of Lancaster’s group won’t make the final cut.
Read on to discover the five uncapped men who could yet be a part of the final 31.
1. Sam Burgess
No uncapped player has filled more column inches than Slammin’ Sam.
The rugby league convert had an impressive first season for Bath, but that was largely down to the decision to switch him from inside centre, where he began with the West Country outfit, to the blind-side flank.
Burgess excelled in the No. 6 jersey and was particularly impressive during his side’s Premiership final defeat. That evidence has been ignored by the England coaches, however, who are treating him purely as a No. 12 during this training camp. Farrell told the Guardian’s Paul Rees:
'Sam is with us as a 12 and he has shown up well in training,' said Farrell, who also made the switch from rugby league to union as a player. Asked about Burgess’s chances of making the 31 for the World Cup, he replied: 'We will see, and the same goes for everyone else in the squad. He is in the mix and doing very well.'
But in the opinion of one England World Cup winner, that is not the position Burgess should be playing. Matt Dawson told BBC Sport the former South Sydney Rabbitoh had been “found out” playing in the midfield for Bath.
Picking Burgess as a centre will mean at least one of Brad Barritt, Luther Burrell, Kyle Eastmond, Henry Slade or Billy Twelvetrees will miss out on selection, so the 26-year-old has it all to do to prove himself worthy of a spot.
2. Luke Cowan-Dickie
Exeter hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie was included in England’s training squad along with other No. 2s Dylan Hartley, Rob Webber and Tom Youngs.
Hartley was dropped after receiving a ban for headbutting in a league match and replaced by Saracens’ Jamie George, so Cowan-Dickie has moved at least one notch up the pecking order.
If England take three specialist hookers, as is likely, it looks to be a straight shootout between the Cornishman and George for that third berth.
The powerful 22-year-old had a strong season for the Chiefs and was branded a “special player” by former England No. 2 Graham Dawe, per BBC Sport.
He scored twice in 14 appearances in the Premiership and could prove an impactful bench option for Lancaster with his strong ball-carrying attributes.
3. Henry Slade
Another Exeter starlet with a shout of making the final 31 is Henry Slade. He has performed at fly-half and centre for the Chiefs and is the pick of England’s World Cup-winning coach Sir Clive Woodward to make the squad.
Woodward wrote in the Daily Mail:
With Manu Tuilagi out, England have Brad Barritt and other options but they have to play a real footballer at 12. And the best I’ve seen is Slade at Exeter.
At the very highest level I’ve always believed in playing two footballers at 10 and 12 and Slade can play in both. It would have been good to see him paired with Danny Cipriani in the Six Nations as a left-foot, right-foot combination but Slade with George Ford would be just as interesting.
And Sir Ian McGeechan also sees Slade as a future star. In May, writing in the Telegraph, he labeled the 22-year-old as an “outside bet” for the World Cup, adding:
I have seen him score vital points when the game is in the balance. It is something that is easily overlooked. He is at his favoured position of fly-half now, but I think he could play just as comfortably at 12 for England. You look at the inconsistencies of Billy Twelvetrees and seeing him making errors when he appears to be trying too hard, and then you compare them with Slade’s game. Slade appears to have so much more time on the ball, never being rushed, a sure sign of a quality player in any sport. He makes good decisions.
4. Calum Clark
Northampton’s No. 7 Calum Clark is vying for a place in the ultra-competitive area of the England back row, where more experienced men such as skipper Chris Robshaw, Tom Wood, James Haskell and Matt Kvesic are battling it out for squad places.
With Robshaw the captain and starting No. 7, and Wood and Haskell the two top dogs on the blindside, they are seemingly the three men most likely safe.
The role of back-up No. 7 therefore seems to be a scrap between Kvesic of Gloucester, who has two caps, and the uncapped Clark.
The 26-year-old was Saints’ players’ and supporters’ player of the year, per the Northants Telegraph.
One area he has had to address to feature in Stuart Lancaster’s plans has been discipline. Clark served a lengthy ban for hyper-extending the elbow of Leicester’s Rob Hawkins in 2012, but he seems to have cleaned up his act enough for Lancaster to consider him.
With Kvesic known more for his fetching ability as a classic open side, it will come down to how much variation Lancaster wants among his back-row options.
Clark was described by the Telegraph’s Mick Cleary as "a physical lump, a real grafter at the breakdown, hard to dislodge over the ball, a nuisance for opponents and a prime source of possession for his own side when he gets it right."
But those attributes may be deemed too similar to those possessed by the likes of Haskell.
5. Jamie George
Saracens hooker George was drafted into the squad after the ban doled out to Dylan Hartley for the headbutt he planted on George forced Stuart Lancaster to swing the axe on his most experienced No. 2.
George, then, was at the back of the hooking queue when called up, and he has had the past few weeks to force his way into the argument for a place in the final squad.
There is no question the 24-year-old is an emerging talent.
He has a nose for the try line, as his long-range effort in the Premiership final proved, and he would be a reliable back-up option.