Dallaglio: ‘Camps must be ruthless’

Date published: May 25 2015

England's players will have to be ruthless and put friendship to one side on the training pitch in order to make the final World Cup squad, according to former captain Lawrence Dallaglio.

Stuart Lancaster's group of 50 will be cut down to 31 on August 31, with three warm-up games beforehand, but Dallaglio expects that the England coaching staff already have a fair idea of who will make the final group.

That means for those players on the outside trying to force their way in, this isn't a time to be selfless.

"I know how competitive those camps can be. You can be friends sat round the dinner table, but you don’t have to be friends when you’re out on the training pitch. It’s about earning your place in the squad. You have to be ruthless," Dallaglio told Planet Rugby.

"I would imagine they have a good idea about 85 to 90 percent of the squad. That’s not to say things can’t change though, because there can be swings and momentum changes and there will be a big stall put out on the physical condition of players.

"Go out and show the coaches what you’re capable of doing. The younger players can either view it as a chance to get experience or really muscle their way into the coaches’ thinking.

"In 1999, Joe Worsley was uncapped but had huge potential and look what he went on to achieve, so maybe someone like Maro Itoje could be that person."

No World Cup squad selection goes without some controversy, even a bloated one, with Dallaglio noting that Dave Ewers and Christian Wade in patricular should feel hard done by.

Wade's omission especially is a sore point for him given the remarkable tries he has produced for Wasps this season, with Dallaglio billing him as one of the game's unique talents.

"Christian Wade will be disappointed. He’s one of the most exciting players in world rugby, let alone English rugby, and he can do things that very few players can," he added.

"At some point he’ll be picked by someone for what he can do rather than what he can’t do. He’ll use it in a constructive way and he’s an England player of the future, from Stuart Lancaster’s view it’s just not the immediate future. 

"Evidently his size and defence are concerns, but you could equally say the glass is half full and that he does things that no other players can do. We have all seen him score tries where you question if anyone else could do that.

"Overall it’s a fair squad. There will always be some disappointment for someone like Dave Ewers given the season he has had with Exeter, but that’s no disrespect to him, the back row is just a very competitive position. That’s always been the case with England, good players will be left out. By and large however it’s what we expected."

Few are better at judging whether a back-row player should play for England with his 85 caps than Dallaglio, so his view counts for a bit more than your average punter's when it comes to assessing Sam Burgess.

The big-name rugby league convert has been thriving in his new role in the pack and according to Dallaglio is deservedly part of the squad, even if where England use him still remains unclear. 

"He’s played at six in the Premiership semi-final for Bath and it’s Mike Ford’s job to win titles, so if he sees Burgess as a six in big games then clearly that tells you everything," he said.

"Ford isn’t selecting him for sentimental reasons – Burgess is delivering on the pitch. I think he’s doing well. He has experience and leadership and a bit of aura about him which is infectious on the rest of the players around him.

"He’s in the England squad on merit. I’m sure the management are having arguments about how many forwards or backs should go to the World Cup, whereas if you have someone like Burgess that can sway the argument.

"Manu Tuilagi’s absence will have an effect on that too."

When taking into account Dallaglio's work with RugbyWorks, a programme run by his Foundation that is helping young people change their lives through rugby and to get a second chance, it's no surprise to hear that he has a degree of sympathy for Tuilagi. 

The mistakes he has made and consequent absence from the World Cup will turn Tuilagi into an even bigger threat, in the eyes of Dallaglio, as the Leicester centre looks to get his career back on track.

"There’s always a degree of sympathy and of course I’m going to have that given the programme I’m working with," he said.

"I don’t think there was any guarantee that Tuilagi was going to be fit enough for the World Cup anyway so this incident, as unfortunate as it is, has taken that decision away from him and the medical team so he can get ready for next season.

"Manu Tuilagi is always a handful – but a fired up and motivated Tuilagi will be a very interesting proposition for anyone who plays against him."

by Ben Coles

Lawrence Dallaglio is one of the stars of Rugby Matters, a new documentary from Aviva that demonstrates the power of rugby and community spirit in the build-up to the Aviva Premiership Rugby Final. Watch the film now at youtube.com/AvivaUK.