SAM BURGESS admits he now has a “great opportunity” to impress on the international stage having earned selection for England Saxons after just seven first-team games in rugby union.
The ex-Bradford Bulls star, who only made his debut for Bath at the end of November after his cross-code move from NRL champions South Sydney, will face the Irish Wolfhounds at centre in Cork a week tomorrow.
If he impresses there the Yorkshireman might even be parachuted into the full England squad for their second Six Nations game against Italy at Twickenham on February 14.
Rather than name his squad for the tournament yesterday, head coach Stuart Lancaster opted to instead reveal a 34-man “senior training squad” for the opener in Cardiff on February 6.
That certainly suggests there will be scope for changes later in the Six Nations if anyone does catch the eye in a strong Saxons line-up.
In the main squad, the headline news was the return of 36-year-old Nick Easter, the veteran Harlequins No 8 who has not featured before for Lancaster and last played in the 2011 World Cup when his infamous “that’s £35,000 down the toilet” lost bonus comment was reported after their acrimonious exit.
However, he has been in fine form for his club and offers a timely solution after England incumbent Ben Morgan broke a leg.
Also, as expected, Sale Sharks fly-half Danny Cipriani earns a reprieve and is named as one of four No 10s who are all encouraged to impress in training next week to claim that shirt in Wales.
But, at the second-tier level, Dewsbury-born Burgess – whose older brother Luke yesterday quit South Sydney for Manly – is hoping to quietly show he has learned the game quickly enough to be considered himself as the competition develops.
“I am really excited,” said the 26-year-old, rated as the international player of the year in rugby league before his high-profile switch.
“It’s a great opportunity to get out and see what I can do within the English set-up.
“I am looking forward to meeting a few guys. It has been a steep learning curve for me. You learn in training, but I think you do the most realistic learning on a game day.
“Certainly, as my minutes on the field have crept up, I think my performances have improved and I have got more game-awareness.
“There is still so much to learn and so many things to improve on, but I am really enjoying the transition.
“I am starting to understand the game a bit more.”
Lancaster, meanwhile, has dangled the carrot of a World Cup training camp selection in front of Cipriani in a bid to stop the Sale fly-half moving to France.
He revealed yesterday he will take four fly-halves into his summer training squad ahead of England hosting the World Cup in the autumn but rejects suggestions this is Cipriani’s final chance at Test level.
“I don’t see where this last chance idea has come from,” said Lancaster of the mercurial 27-year-old, who was eyeing a move to Toulon in the summer if overlooked.
“We brought him into the New Zealand tour last summer. He was on the bench in the first Test, played in the Crusaders game and he was involved in the third Test.
“We’ve got a whole Six Nations period to go and the World Cup camp to go. I see Danny being around for hopefully the next three to four years.
“Selection will come down ultimately not to previous reputation or what people have done in the past, it’s what they do every week for their clubs.
“That’s how we select, on what we see.
“Danny will be in the mix like everyone else.”
By bringing Easter in from the cold, Lancaster has proven to detractors who argue he only likes conformists that the door is never firmly shut.
He spoke with Harlequins chief Conor O’Shea initially and said: “He speaks highly of Nick and the impact he’s been making over the last two years.
“For me obviously it was a phone call (with Easter) and then a meeting. I met him one to one and we had a good chat, and we’ll take it from there. Particularly with Ben Morgan’s injury we needed another specialist No 8.”
Lancaster has chosen to replace injured Manu Tuilagi with Bath’s Jonathan Joseph and bring Graham Kitchener in for Courtney Lawes.
England will hope British Lion Tuilagi can beat his groin problem to feature during the tournament, with Lawes battling ankle trouble too.