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Tuesday 6 December 2016

Sam Burgess steps into unknown as he starts for England in Wales showdown

Rookie convert looking forward to Roberts battle

Sam Burgess struggled in Cork
Sam Burgess struggled in Cork

England's Sam Burgess pointedly asked "Who?" when informed Wales' Scott Williams would rather face him than Jonathan Joseph in Saturday's World Cup showdown at Twickenham.

Ten months after his transfer from rugby league, Burgess will make his second Test start after Bath team-mate Joseph was ruled out of the Pool A clash through a chest injury.

Williams stated a preference for facing Burgess over Joseph, who can be an elusive runner, and when it was put to the 26-year-old former Bradford Bulls and South Sydney Rabbitohs forward, he mischievously asked for the name of the critic to be repeated.

"Who's that?" Burgess said. "Oh yes. Okay, yes."

It is fair to say Burgess, who is unlikely not to know his opposition on Saturday, is not concerned what others think of his speedy elevation from newcomer to a starting place in the biggest match of head coach Stuart Lancaster's four-year stewardship.

"I don't believe what people say. I believe in Stuart. I believe what he's picked," Burgess added.

"It's their opinion. I believe in myself. I feel like I've got the respect of my team-mates and the staff here.

"That's the opinions that really count to me. I'll just wait and see on Saturday.

"My job as a player is to go out and deliver the job that he's given me. That's my main focus at the moment.

Burgess will be in direct opposition to British and Irish Lions centre Jamie Roberts, who has vast experience.

"Jamie's a great player, very big and dominant. Looking forward to the battle," the Yorkshireman added.

Wales captain Sam Warburton has underlined the enormity of the showdown against England.

Although it is not a knockout match in terms of World Cup aspirations, the losing team will see their quarter-final hopes suffer a huge dent from a pool that also includes Australia.

"You know it's coming, and it's a huge game," Warburton said.

"It is one of the biggest Wales versus England games in history.

"It's my fourth game at Twickenham, and they've got better and better atmosphere-wise. Another year down the line, and it's only going one way, the atmosphere."

"It (Twickenham) is my next favourite stadium to the Millennium. It will be very passionate, and hopefully a few more Welshmen there than normal.

"This is probably the highest-profile game of my career, I think.

"It will probably be the most-watched game, including a Lions Test series. I read that there has been more demand for these tickets than for (World Cup) final tickets.

"That hits home how big it is. Unless we meet again in the final - you never know - this will be the biggest game I've played in."

Warburton also revealed how he copes with the build-up to a game of such magnitude, adding: "You switch on and off.

"Days like today and tomorrow you start thinking about the game. Warren (Wales head coach Warren Gatland) wouldn't go giving big speeches on Monday or Tuesday, or even today.

"He is quite chilled out, and I am the same. You know when the time is right."

Gatland has gone with his tried and tested Wales back-row of Warburton, Dan Lydiate and Taulupe Faletau for the England game, but Warburton is well aware of openside specialist Justin Tipuric's outstanding form.

"Justin has been playing as well as he has been for the last four years," Warburton said. "It is a dynamic that people are used to.

"Justin has been a top-class seven for many years, not just now. He's one of the most difficult players I've played against. He's all over the pitch, and it is great knowing we have someone like that on the bench to do a job."

And asked for his verdict on England boss Stuart Lancaster selecting former rugby league star Sam Burgess in midfield on Saturday, Warburton added: "It didn't surprise me.

"To have a player of his ability in the squad, he's a big-game player. He has played in some huge matches in rugby league.

"Anyone to doubt him is foolish. He is a wonderful athlete, with a great skill level, and he is a leader."

ends

england v wales, tomorrow, live tv3 (ko 8.0)

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