Gambling on England’s World Cup Hopes

Who is the Bundesliga’s “Mr. 100%” from the penalty spot?

It is just 21 days until the 2015 Rugby World Cup kicks off in England and Wales, which you can catch LIVE on Fox Sports.

Outside of the Fifa World Cup and maybe the Cricket World Cup, the Rugby World Cup is the biggest of its kind in the world.

There is immense pressure on hosts England to do well as the overall success of the tournament could hinge on them going deep into the finals.

Should they go out early – which is possible given the incredibly tough group they've been drawn in – it could have a real impact on attendances in the latter stages.

Having home support should be a big boost, but playing in front of the home crowd also brings added pressure – just ask the 2011 All Blacks about the pressure they were under going into the final on home soil four years ago.

England Head Coach Stuart Lancaster announced his final 31-man squad on Wednesday and it is safe to say that not everyone who hopes that captain Chris Robshaw lifts the William Webb Ellis trophy at Twickenham on October 31 also agrees with his selections – the omission of Danny Cipriani being among the main gripes.

His biggest gamble, however, comes in midfield where he has picked the barely tried and certainly untested Sam Burgess as one of his four centres. 

In picking Burgess, Lancaster has dispensed with the services of Billy Twelvetrees and Luther Burrell, the former who appeared to be the coach's ideal number 12, the latter of whom played the entire 6 Nations in partnership with Jonathan Joseph.

Burgess, known as 'Slammin' Sam' from his rugby league days with the South Sydney Rabbitohs in Australia's NRL, only switched from the 13-man game to the 15-man game nine months ago.

For those who don't follow rugby that closely this might not sound like a big deal but the two codes are vastly different and most rugby league converts have found the transition tough.

In those nine months, Burgess has played just 19 games of union and only one at international level which is a huge step up from the club game. What's more, he has played most of those games as a flanker in the forward pack and not at centre where he'll play for England.

In his one appearance for England, Burgess made his massive presence known, making a couple of huge tackles and running some smart lines but also he picked up a needless yellow card. 

The man himself has freely admitted he's learning the rules of union as he goes and such indiscipline could cost England at the Rugby World Cup.

It's not hard to imagine the likes of New Zealand, Australia and even Wales looking at his selection and licking their lips at the prospect of facing him given his inexperience.

This is not to say he's not without his positives, however. Burgess is a winner, plain and simple, and Lancaster doesn't have many of those in his squad. At 6'5” and 18 stone, he's also a massive physical specimen and is capable of putting in some bone-crunching hits, breaking through tackles, making the hard yards and offloading.

He is also a fearless competitor. Despite breaking his cheekbone in the first minute of the NRL Grand Final, he played on and inspired Souths to the title, also winning the man-of-the-match award. That kind of leadership is both vital and infectious, and Lancaster will hope that rubs off on his relatively green squad.

He will in all likelihood be used as a substitute and will be a terrifying sight to see coming off the bench when limbs and bodies are tiring.

Burgess has also supposedly been uprooting trees in training which can only bode well for Lancaster and his men. 

His selection is a gamble and Lancaster's future as England coach could ultimately come to depend on whether Burgess is a success or not.

By Daniel Ogunshakin

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