England are set to overhaul their midfield by bringing in Sam Burgess and Owen Farrell for Saturday’s World Cup showdown at Twickenham with the aim of meeting Wales’ power game head-on.
Dewsbury’s Burgess and Brad Barritt are ready to forge a new centre combination after Jonathan Joseph was ruled out of the Pool A game with a chest injury, while Farrell has been picked ahead of George Ford at fly-half.
Joseph is continuing treatment on the pectoral muscle problem suffered during Friday’s bonus-point victory over Fiji and England retain hope that he still has a role to play in the group stage.
The Farrell, Burgess, Barritt axis will provide a muscular presence in the looming gainline war at Twickenham and their inclusion extends beyond the desire to simply contain the Welsh.
The selection is born out of a belief that the game must initially be taken to Wales using powerful ball carriers with the ultimate objective of wearing down Warren Gatland’s men.
The knowledge that Wales will use a defensive system that deploys 14 players in a line with the full-back patrolling the space behind means England must force a path through rather than seek to circumnavigate the wall of red shirts.
Influential in the management’s thinking is the 21-16 victory in Cardiff in February, a highlight of Stuart Lancaster’s reign that was headlined by Joseph’s quality try but was ultimately founded on the front-foot momentum generated by their ball carriers.
Once the heavyweight collisions have unfolded and the match enters the final quarter, reinforcements are set to be summoned from the bench in the manner that proved so successful in the 35-11 win over Fiji.
The selection of Burgess, who has played only 112 minutes of Test rugby after converting from league 10 months ago, is viewed as a gamble by many given he will be lining-up opposite veteran British and Irish Lion Jamie Roberts, but England’s belief in the 26-year-old is steadfast after witnessing his development throughout the summer.
Burgess’s promotion to the starting XV represents an enormous gamble, however, even when considering his exposure to big game occasions with the South Sydney Rabbitohs in Australia’s National RL.
Any flaws are sure to be exposed by 70-cap battering ram Roberts, who will have watched with interest how he strayed out of position in defence on his debut against France last month.