England Camp ‘Divided’ Over Andy Farrell Influence & Sam Burgess Presence
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England’s failed World Cup unfolded against a backdrop of disquiet over the influence of Andy Farrell and Sam Burgess’ presence in the squad according to reports.
Reacting to the 33-13 defeat by Australia that dumped the hosts out of the tournament, head coach Stuart Lancaster declared there is “no division in the coaching team” and stated that the final decision in picking the side was his alone.
However, it is known that misgivings were harboured within the squad over the power wielded by backs coach Farrell, both tactically and in selection. It was felt that the rugby league great and not Lancaster was in effect running England.
The determination to include Burgess in the World Cup squad and then name him in the matchday 23 was divisive and Farrell was seen as the driving force behind the 26-year-old’s elevation.
Outside the camp, Burgess’ rapid promotion 10 months after switching codes from rugby league has been viewed with amazement and appeared to have been based on one solid yet unspectacular display against in the first warm-up match.
Henry Slade excelled during the same game yet was never under serious consideration for the 28-25 defeat to Wales due to his inexperience as England deviated away from the attacking game plan hinging on George Ford’s vision at fly-half that had served them well for the past year.
The management repeatedly pointed to Burgess’ performance during the gruelling 10-week summer training camp to justify his participation, but their faith was not shared throughout the playing squad, it is understood.
While there was never any doubt over the dedication of a popular member of the squad who emptied the tanks in pursuit of making an impact at the World Cup, it was felt that his grasp of the nuances of union remained in its infancy and he was not ready for exposure to the Test arena.
Luther Burrell, an ever present under Lancaster over the last two years, lost out on selection for the final 31 to Burgess and there was sympathy for a player who had been overlooked because of the perceived aura and big game experience of his rival.
When asked on Sunday about the suggestion England were at odds internally over selection, Lancaster replied: “No. Let’s put that one to bed to start with.
“The decisions we make on selection are collective and they’re ultimately mine and my responsibility. There’s no division in the coaching team.”
England presented a united front throughout the build up to the World Cup, but a flashpoint between Danny Cipriani and attacking skills coach Mike Catt occurred the day before the final 31-man squad was announced.
Shortly after being informed he was to be cut, a disappointed Cipriani was told to resume training and when his effort level was perceived to be below that required, he received a dressing down from Catt.
A row erupted and Cipriani received support from the players, who deemed Catt’s response to be too personal.
Former England captain Will Carling stated last week that former school teacher Lancaster presided over a “classroom-orientated environment” in which players were treated as “schoolboys”.
The comments were vehemently rejected by the players when facing the media, but it is understood that they had grown frustrated by Lancaster’s refusal to allow them to go out and consume alcohol at the end of a tour or tournament.