Rugby World Cup 2015: Clive Woodward bucks trend, predicting Sam Burgess will make England squad

Confident: England’s 2003 World Cup winning head coach Clive Woodward. Photo: Kevin StentClick here for full coverage of the 2015 Rugby World CupThe lowdown: Rugby World Cup 2015
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With England coach Stuart Lancaster poised to name the host nation’s 31-man World Cup squad at 1:45pm GMT on Thursday (10:45pm AEST), the big question on everyone’s lips is whether or not Sam Burgess will be successful in his World Cup bid, or whether his dreams will be left in tatters on the cutting room floor.

With many tipping the choice is a coin toss between Burgess and his centre pairing from England’s first warm-up against France, Henry Slade, it looks as though it will go right down to the wire.

Plenty of former players, and even a World Cup winning coach have had their say, with an almost unanimous verdict going against the man the South Sydney Rabbitohs mourn every weekend.

Let’s take a look at what those in the know are saying ahead of the announcement.

Sunday Times columnist and former England five-eighth Stuart Barnes, who ahead of Burgess’ debut against France labelled the big man “one of the most undeserving players to make a debut in the red rose”, gave Burgess credit for his barnstorming performance earlier this month.

The outspoken pundit revised his opinion to state that the convert deserved a second chance at making the cut, even if “he didn’t bestride Twickenham like a colossus”. Ultimately however, he didn’t name Big Sam in his picks for the World Cup squad.

Ireland rugby great Brian O’Driscoll joined the pessimistic chorus, saying Burgess’s attacking game is below the standard required at international level and was more impressed by Henry Slade during England’s victory over France last week.

“Burgess has proper defensive X Factor, of that there’s no doubt,” O’Driscoll said on www.brianodriscoll杭州夜网m.

“His tackle technique and strength in the hit were never in question and for me, he has just the right amount of thug in him.

“When his team has the ball though, I just don’t think he’s quite up to speed at international level just yet.”

Other prominent naysayers include Matt Dawson – the scrum-half who flicked the ball to Jonny Wilkinson to break Australian hearts in 2003 – as well as former teammates Will Greenwood and Mike Tindall.

Dawson told the BBC after the France game: “You can’t take him to the World Cup for me. He played 80 mins and credit for that. But the way the game went in the second half there was nothing for him to do.

“The great thing about Burgess is he doesn’t make mistakes with ball in hand. But unfortunately, if you’re going to be really picky, positionally he wasn’t great … There are things that instinctively he doesn’t know what to do.”

On a surprising note however, England’s 2003 World Cup winning coach Sir Clive Woodward and inside centre Greenwood told Sky Sports they could see a happier ending for Burgess.

While Greenwood eliminated Burgess from his picks, he did add a postscript: “So – can you go with Burgess as the fourth-choice centre, someone who brings this personality, this winning mentality, this self-belief… and this massive smash!? If Burgess goes into the squad in front of Burrell, I can understand why.”

The last word however surely goes to Woodward, who turns out to be a huge Sam fan, stating that he thinks he will make the final 31: “I think Burgess is going to be a big star for England. I just think it’s 12 months early”, he declared.

“There’s no doubt he’s an amazing player … I think they will [pick him]. I think Burgess will go.”