Stuart Lancaster believes he has selected a “hard to beat” England World Cup squad after on Thursday naming the 31 players who will represent the country at the home tournament starting next month.
As expected, Sam Burgess was picked by Lancaster, England’s head coach, just nine months after playing his first game of rugby union and at the expense of Northampton’s Luther Burrell, an ever-present in the last two Six Nations campaigns.
Exeter’s Henry Slade joined Burgess, Jonathan Joseph and Brad Barritt in England’s midfield quartet with one of the two fly-halves, Owen Farrell, offering cover at 12. As earlier reported, Danny Cipriani was omitted with Alex Goode covering fly-half and full-back.
Related: Will Carling warns Stuart Lancaster not to select Sam Burgess for World Cup
At forward, the prop Alex Corbisiero, a key player for the Lions in Australia in 2013, missed out after suffering a back injury against France at Twickenham: Kieran Brookes will cover both sides of the scrum. Jamie George beat Luke Cowan-Dickie for the third hooker’s spot and George Kruis edged Dave Attwood in the second row.
Ben Morgan will be the alternative No8 option to Billy Vunipola nine months after breaking his leg playing for Gloucester. He played for 40 minutes against France at Twickenham and pipped the 37-year-old Nick Easter, who impressed from the bench with his ability to improvise and react.
Easter’s omission means that only seven of the squad have survived from the last World Cup. Despite widespread speculation this week about who was in and who was out, Lancaster said decisions were made only after a match was arranged in training on Wednesday.
“Selection was not easy and it is important to stress that the players not in this group are still part of our wider squad and could come back in at any point; history suggests some of them will, ” said Lancaster. “I have had this date for the announcement in my mind for the last two years and I have spent the last three days talking to players individually.
“No final calls were made yesterday. We were disappointed by the way we played in Paris on Saturday and we replicated a match in training on Wednesday, refereed by Wayne Barnes with two assistants running the line, and it allowed the players to go against each other.”
Only three players in the squad have reached the 50-cap mark: James Haskell (60), Danny Care (52) and Dan Cole (51). Of those three, only Cole is a regular starter. The 14 backs have 290 caps between them and if England are to win the World Cup, they will have to defy the adage that you need experience to do it.
“It has been a rollercoaster in terms of selection. Sam’s expression showed the relief to get the opportunity and Henry’s reaction was priceless. In contrast, you had Nick Easter, who pushed Ben Morgan so hard, and Luther; it was tough telling them they were not in. Then there was Alex Corbisiero, with all his experience, and you had to tell him he was missing out. They are the decisions you have to make as a group, but the way all they took the news showed their integrity.
“We continually assess performance in our time together. We always give them areas to work on and tell them where they are in the pecking order. Luther had trained really well, but we felt Henry and Sam were a duo who have come on in different ways.
“We made our choice after 10 weeks in camp and we believe we have a great group to take us into the tournament. It is really positive that we had such strength in depth to choose from and with three weeks to go before we play Fiji, we believe we are in good shape. We are looking forward to the country getting behind England. We know the players represent the nation with pride.
Every call is a big one but Sam and Henry made a big impact and they are worthy of their placesStuart Lancaster
“The players are desperate to get going. We have spent a lot of time together in the last three years and have put experience into the right people. It is a young team but an exciting one. We will be hard to beat.”
Defending the selection of Burgess, Lancaster said: “Sam was picked on merit. He has learned the game at Bath, standing in the centre whether wearing 12 or 6. He has earned the right to be in the squad. He has done well. I would not describe his selection as a gamble. Every call is a big one but he and Henry made a big impact on their debuts and they are worthy of their places. Owen is an option for us at 12 and we play Ireland next week before we have to think about Fiji.”
Asked whether he would call on the banned Dylan Hartley if one of the three hookers succumbed to injury, Lancaster replied: “We will consider players who have not been part of the squad this summer in any position, Tom Croft or Ben Foden for example, but it is a hypothetical question. You cannot predict things. You have to trust your instincts and we trust each other as a management team. We are ready to go.”
Full-backs: Brown (Harlequins), Goode (Saracens)
Wings: Nowell (Exeter), May (Gloucester), Watson (Bath)
Centres: Joseph (Bath), Barritt (Saracens), Slade (Exeter), Burgess (Bath)
Fly-halves: Ford (Bath), Farrell (Saracens)
Scrum-halves: B Youngs (Leicester), Care (Harlequins), Wigglesworth (Saracens)
Hookers: T Youngs (Leicester), Webber (Bath), George (Saracens)
Props: Marler (Harlequins), M Vunipola (Saracens), Cole (Leicester), Wilson (Bath), Brookes (Northampton)
Second-rows: Lawes (Northampton), Launchbury (Wasps), Parling (Exeter Chiefs), Kruis (Saracens)