Rugby: Burgess barges his way into England's midfield muddle for World Cup

England centre Sam Burgess (centre) passes the ball during a Rugby World Cup warm-up match between England and France at Twickenham Stadium on Aug 15, 2015.
England centre Sam Burgess (centre) passes the ball during a Rugby World Cup warm-up match between England and France at Twickenham Stadium on Aug 15, 2015. PHOTO: AFP

LONDON (REUTERS) - Head coach Stuart Lancaster and backs coach Andy Farrell recognised a kindred spirit in Sam Burgess and it is no great surprise that a man who stood out as brutally tough even in rugby league has forced his way into England's World Cup squad.

Centres Burgess and Henry Slade made impressive test debuts earlier this month in the home warm-up against France and on the back of that, and "training the house down" according to Lancaster, were included ahead of regular midfield starter Luther Burrell.

Also in the squad are Brad Barritt and Jonathan Joseph, who have never played with either of the new boys or each other.

It is hardly the settled midfield Lancaster would have been hoping for heading into the World Cup and although his hand was forced somewhat by the injury and subsequent banning of Manu Tuilagi over the last year, it appears he is still not entirely sure what role he wants his centres to perform.

Lancaster has been a vocal supporter of Barritt for years and trusts him implicitly to organise the defence and make his tackles. Joseph has added a new spark of exciting creativity since his arrival and is likely to start outside Barritt in England's first-choice side in what would be Lancaster's 13th different centre partnership in less than four years.

Slade, sharp and creative, looks the natural back-up to Joseph and Burgess, who has spent most of his first season in the game trying to master the laws at flanker, therefore seems a like-for-like rock to shadow Barritt.

"Henry and Sam as a duo really impressed," Lancaster said on Thursday when announcing his squad. "Sam has come in from a new code and both of them have absolutely trained the house down. They made two debuts I have not seen before. They've earned their place."

The huge Burgess had Twickenham wincing with two monster hits against France, though the doubters also highlighted his naive yellow card for interfering with an attempted tap-penalty.

He famously produced a man of the match performance in his final game of rugby league last year when leading South Sydney to the ARL title despite fracturing his cheekbone in the opening minutes.

That kind of ego-free mentality and total commitment are highly-rated attributes for Lancaster and, unsurprisingly, for Farrell, who trod the same path from league to union and played in the 2007 World Cup a year after switching codes.

"To force our hand to put him into the squad, he should be unbelievably proud of himself," Farrell said.

Former England captain and centre Will Carling said this week that Burgess was not ready for selection but Will Greenwood, England's 2003 World Cup-winning centre, said he understood what the big man could bring.

"They've gone for the sheer presence and aura of Burgess, the winning mentality he brings to a squad," he said. "It's a gamble but he gives a lift simply by being in camp."