England will name the 31 players who will carry the nation’s hopes at the home World Cup on Thursday, the Rugby Football Union have announced.
Head coach Stuart Lancaster will unveil his squad at a 1.45pm press conference at the team’s Surrey training base, cutting eight from the group of 39 who have been involved in the two warm-up games against France.
A 25-20 defeat in Paris on Saturday has muddled the selection picture after utility back Danny Cipriani, No 8 Nick Easter and lock Dave Attwood delivered influential cameos off the bench.
All three needed strong performances to challenge England’s thinking and reacted by playing important roles in the late fightback that secured scoreboard respectability in an otherwise dire performance.
Lancaster, who said at the Stade de France that he is unsure how many places are still open, has planned face-to-face meetings with those players who will be jettisoned.
Cipriani is behind Mike Brown and Alex Goode in the full-back hierarchy and trails George Ford and Owen Farrell at fly-half, leaving Lancaster with the conundrum of how to shoehorn him into his squad. The 27-year-old Sale playmaker, who showed his pace by touching down in Paris and brought energy to the team, is likely to be omitted.
England’s World Cup winning scrum-half Matt Dawson was impressed by Cipriani, but insists the criteria for selection must extend beyond choosing a player because he can rescue a lost cause.
“Most of the bench played well – Nick Easter, Jamie George, Danny Care and Cipriani. There are lots of headaches and Cipriani is one of those headaches,” Dawson said.
“But you can’t just pick a couple of players in case you’re 15 points down and you needed someone to come and win a game. You have to think about who will come on in the second minute if your fly-half is injured.”
Rugby league convert Sam Burgess is set to be included among the 31 after a solid performance on his debut against France at Twickenham 10 days ago, but Dawson is more convinced by Henry Slade, who is likely to miss out.
“Sam’s inclusion will be based on more than what he did at Twickenham.
“His off-field influence is well received by the management,” Dawson said.
“I can understand why they’d take Sam Burgess, but he wouldn’t be in my 31, nor in Clive Woodward’s.”
The visit of Ireland to Twickenham on September 5 is a match they dare not lose, with the World Cup opener against Fiji looming two weeks later.