Rugby League convert Sam Burgess will have a chance to book his place in the England rugby union side’s World Cup squad after being handed a Test debut in the team named on Monday by coach Stuart Lancaster for Saturday’s warm-up match against France at Twickenham.
Burgess has been selected by World Cup hosts England just 10 months after his high-profile cross-code switch from rugby league, having bowed out of the 13-man games by helping the South Sydney Rabbitohs win Australia’s NRL title.
The 26-year-old Burgess has been picked at inside centre, not blindside flanker where he produced his best performances for club side Bath last season, and will line-up alongside fellow uncapped player Henry Slade in midfield, with experienced fly-half Owen Farrell alongside the two new Test centres.
— England Rugby (@EnglandRugby) August 10, 2015
That Burgess has made it this far in his quest to play at the World Cup, which starts next month, has proved highly controversial with a number of pundits arguing he has done little in his time in union to warrant such rapid promotion for all his success in league.
But England coach Lancaster said Monday: “We will see if Sam can translate what he’s done in training, which is clearly good otherwise I wouldn’t have taken this chance to look at him against France.”
Alex Goode; Anthony Watson, Henry Slade, Sam Burgess, Jonny May; Owen Farrell, Richard Wigglesworth; Ben Morgan, Calum Clark, Tom Wood (capt); Geoff Parling, George Kruis; Kieran Brookes, Rob Webbber, Mako Vunipola
Replacements: Luke Cowan-Dickie, Alex Corbisiero, David Wilson, Dave Attwood, James Haskell, Danny Care, Danny Cipriani, Billy Twelvetrees
Abu Dhabi Saracens’ players are relishing the chance to play in the inaugural Asia Rugby Western Clubs Champions League next month, although chairman Jay Danielson is playing down expectations.
Sarries will test themselves against three other champions from West Asia, including Kazakhstan National League winners Olymp, Gulf Top Six winners and familiar foes Doha, and Sri Lanka Dialog Rugby League champions Kandy.
Australian Danielson is excited to be a part of the tournament, which will be played between September 11-18, but is wary it comes at a time when Sarries will be at the height of preparations for the UAE Premiership kick-off a week later.
“It’s a bit of a double edged sword,” he said. “If we are competitive and do well I’ll be extremely happy, but there’s a little bit of me that thinks, ultimately, it’s preparation towards the start of the season.
“There will still probably be a few rusty bodies out there.”
Despite dampening expectations, Danielson says his men are excited to test themselves against new opponents and show the rest of the continent why they were crowned champions of West Asia last season.
“Of course we want to be the best, we don’t go into any game thinking any different,” said Danielson.
“The guys are pumped about it and being one of the first teams to play in it is great publicity for the club. I’m not going to say we’ll walk away with silverware but we’re excited to be in there. If we win, it’ll be great.”
"There will still probably be a few rusty bodies out there" – Danielson
Doha host Sarries on Friday, September 11, with Kandy facing Olymp in Dubai the following day.
Sarries welcome Kandy to Abu Dhabi on Tuesday, September 15 with Doha hosting Olymp the same day. The final fixtures will both be held in Dubai on Friday, September 18, with Sarries taking on Olymp and Kandy playing Doha.
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– UAE: Abu Dhabi Saracens to test themselves against West Asia’s best
– UAE: UAE RF praised but determined to press ahead with new initiatives
Danielson thinks Kandy head into the tournament as favourites.
He said: “I imagine Kandy will be very strong. My understanding is they were very sharp last season, so I think they will be the team to beat.”
Sarries’ new joint player-coach Stephen Hamilton sees the tournament as a massive opportunity for his team.
“It’s massively exciting,” he added. “It will do wonders for ourselves, as well as Doha, Kandy and Olymp, so it’s a really good thing.
“We’ve got a brand and a name to uphold so it’s a massive opportunity to get us on the map and take a massive step forward.”
Despite recognition from World Rugby for the work he and the UAE Rugby Federation have done in four short years since its birth, Qais Al Dhalai insists he has no intention of resting on his laurels.
The UAE RF’s secretary general described the praise received by rugby’s governing body last week as the “ultimate outcome” but was quick to thank his rugby family.
“We have been fully operational since 2011 and it’s taken us four years to get this recognition. Hard work always pays off,” said Al Dhalai.
“We have done a great job, everyone who belongs to the UAE RF family. This recognition is one of the ultimate outcomes for any sports administrator.”
Al Dhalai is determined to press ahead with new initiatives, including a collaborative venture between the UAE RF, World Rugby and Asia Rugby to promote rugby in war-torn Palestine.
“We have a promising project to introduce rugby to Palestine, working closely with World Rugby and Asia Rugby to introduce the game,” he said.
“We are doing a good thing for the right reason, to spread the game. The biggest value of rugby is to grow the game.
“World Rugby does not only look after performance. The Rugby World Cup and HSBC Sevens World Series is key but growing the game is an equal part.
“Development is my hobby, I love it and think I and my colleagues in UAE RF and AR are doing well.”