For the past two weeks England Rugby have swapped the leafy suburbs of Bagshot in Surrey for the place commonly referred to as the 'Mile-High City', Denver in Colorado. The air may be thinner, with a documented 17% less oxygen than cities at sea level, however the focus and intensity of training has continued to rise and from a coach's perspective England are totally on track as Andy Farrell shared on their final Friday over the pond;
'I'm very happy with the plan and how it is going, and it is going according to plan, the guys are 100% committed to the cause and what we are really impressed with is the unity and respect that goes alongside the graft and the time and effort that they have put in together. The togetherness because of the pain and the excitement that they are going through together has been there for all to see, it is brilliant really competition for places is as high as it possibly came be but not for one second has it comprised the unity of the squad.'
This stint in the USA has seen the introduction of more rugby specific elements to training, the strength and conditioning remains however over the pond there have been live matches and specific unit sessions. The news out of camp during week one was the information regarding Sam Burgess' position in the squad and the clarification that he is being assessed as a centre.
There is no doubt about the fact that, to date, Burgess' best rugby has been performed with a 6 on his back for Bath Rugby and by the Aviva Premiership Final he looked extremely comfortable getting his hands dirty in the forwards however with such an abundance of England riches in that area and the loss of a certain Manu Tuilagi the England management believe Burgess is required in the middle.
Naturally this announcement has turned heads and it is fair to say that not everyone agrees however let's not forget that the last time that we all saw Burgess run out with a 12 on his back his rugby union understanding was very much in it' infancy and to say that he is a quick learner is an understatement! England's backs coach was very clear that in the USA the Bath man has 'made a very good account of himself' and is 'very comfortable' in the centre. At the end of the day, Burgess like every single member of the squad is simply striving to prove himself enough to have the opportunity to play a spot of rugby when they return.
The process for hereon there is a fine balance for the England coaching team as they progress towards the 31st August which is the deadline to submit 31 names to World Rugby entitled 'England's 2015 Rugby World Cup Squad'. The balance will be cutting down the numbers in order to create a compact and indelible squad without rushing any key selection decisions.
The squad have now returned from Denver and are currently at the start of a well deserved week off to given their bodies and minds a rest as well as catching up with loved ones. The current plan is that after an intense week back at Pennyhill Park there will be another cut however the number of individuals that will miss out this time isn't set in stone as Farrell shared;
'We have the luxury to do what we want, we won't rush any decisions, we would like to get the unity of the squad down but we will make sure that we can make the right call. That number [total squad] could be 38 it could be 36, we just have to confirm in our own minds at the end of that first week back at Pennyhill Park, what we are solid on or not.'
Once this decision has been made England will charge full steam ahead into their first competitive outing of the summer against France and will have the chance to put into practice the fruits of their extremely hard labour. Farrell is clear about his expectations for the fixture;
'We are expecting an improved performance and fantastic performances from individuals. I'm sure that they'll be a few things to iron out and as coaches we need for things to go wrong so that we can improve on them and so that there is nothing that can come up during the tournament. But, are we expecting a top England performance at home in the first warm up game? Of course we are.'