He may not be the sharpest offensive player in world rugby and he may not even know all the rules yet, but there is one very good reason why Sam Burgess was selected for England. And it could turn out to be a stroke of genius by Stuart Lancaster.
The average amount of points scored by teams in World Cup games in all World Cups is only 19.
The 2011 World Cup had the lowest point accumulation of all-time coming in at a dismal 13 points per team. That’s worse than the horrifically boring 1991 World Cup. The 2007 World Cup was only slightly better with 17 points per team.
If you rank a World Cup on how many points were scored then the best World Cup ever was 1999 when the average points per team in finals games was 27, one point ahead of 1995 and six ahead of 2003.
But in four of the finals we’ve seen scores of 8-7, 15-6, 15-12 and 12-6. There were two tries in those four finals, one scored by Tony Woodcock and the other Tony Daly. That’s two props if you don’t remember. Hardly the attacking brilliance we see in some of the Rugby Championship showdowns.
What I’m getting at here is that World Cups aren’t won on attacking rugby, they are won on defensive grit. Ask the 1995 All Blacks, they had one of the best attacking teams in history and they couldn’t score a try when it counted. You could also ask Richie McCaw what was on his mind when he was ahead of France by one and playing on a broken foot. It certainly wasn’t spread the ball wide.
So, getting back to Lancaster’s selection of Burgess, as soon as the news came through the comment sections went nuts with incensed armchair selectors. And it wasn’t just fans, Will Carling’s comments pre-team selection almost came across as an election smear campaign.
Of course there is some truth there. Burgess may not have a complete game yet, but one key thing that he does have is a destructive and dynamic defensive game and that will be vital once the World Cup kicks off.
Anyone who has played rugby will know how a big tackle can inspire a team, how it can bring a team together. There are plenty of teams that base their whole game plan around aggressive, swarming defence.
England will know that with Burgess they have a midfield that will not be penetrated and this will give them huge amounts of confidence. It will allow them to buy into the siege mentality that has worked so well for them in the past.
So, forget the complaints about Burgess’ attacking game, England have never really played attacking rugby at the World Cup anyway. (Nor have most other teams for that fact.)
The World Cup will again be won on defence and in Sam Burgess, England might have one of the most devastating defensive players in world rugby.