They say that coaches live and die by their selections. In which case England Rugby coach Stuart Lancaster faces the sternest test of his selections at the World Cup.
Lancaster already has the pressure of being the coach of the host nation. A nation that vehemently believes that it can become the first northern hemisphere team to win a World cup in its own region.
Lancaster in some people’s opinions has boldly opted to stick with Sam Burgess who only fairly recently made the switch from Rugby League where he won the NRL Premiership with South Sydney Rabbitohs, to rugby union.
What makes this decision all the more bold is as many ex-players turned pundits point out, those under his charge have played a higher level than the coach; he played U21 and U19 for Scotland. Yet that means little in truth. South Africa’s two World cup wins came with coaches who never played international rugby, Kitch Christie and Jake White. In fact Australia’s two victories also came under coaches who never played international rugby, Bob Dwyer in 1991 and Rod MacQueen in 1999, so maybe England are on the right track.
Lancaster has deep held principles that he expects his players to adapt and stick to. He also has a clear vision. There is no doubt he sees something special in Sam Burgess. There is no doubt that Burgess is likely to be used sparingly as word is he is cramming up on all the rules before the tournament starts. Yet as we witnessed when he played rugby league Burgess has that rare talent of firing up the crowd. He could be a key player when injected into the game, lifting the crowd and his team mates to victory in a tight game.
Burgess will no doubt be determined to repay Lancaster’s faith in him and silence the critics. He could well be the coach’s masterstroke. time will tell…