Rugby: England show their cards early by picking Burgess for Wales match

England's Sam Burgess during the match against Fiji on Sept 19, 2015.
England's Sam Burgess during the match against Fiji on Sept 19, 2015.PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (AFP) - Rugby League convert Sam Burgess has been given a starting role as an England centre for the pivotal World Cup match against Wales at Twickenham on Saturday after coach Stuart Lancaster named his side on Thursday. A chest injury to Burgess's Bath team-mate Jonathan Joseph has seen the 26-year-old - who has played just 112 minutes of Test rugby union - given the role of outside centre alongside Saracens midfielder Brad Barritt, while Owen Farrell starts at fly-half in place of the demoted George Ford.

The decision to drop Ford to the bench is arguably even more controversial than Burgess' inclusion given the Bath playmaker has been England's first-choice No. 10 for the best part of a year.

In selecting Burgess alongside Barritt, Lancaster has now opted for his 14th different midfield combination since taking charge in 2012.

The trio of Farrell-Burgess-Barritt is certainly the most physically powerful midfield three available to Lancaster, with England expecting a bruising gainline contest against the Welsh.

In another change to the England XV from the team that beat Fiji 35-11 at Twickenham last week, No. 8 Billy Vunipola - who like Burgess and Farrell impressed off the bench against the Pacific islanders - starts in place of Ben Morgan, out with a knee injury.

With Burgess and Vunipola now starting, Alex Goode comes on to the bench to provide cover at both full-back and fly-half, with veteran James Haskell involved as a back-row replacement.