Sam Burgess leaves Bath Rugby with immediate effect and returns to rugby league club South Sydney Rabbitohs, departing with two years left on a lucrative contract. In total he played 21 games for Bath and made 5 appearances for England, including the Rugby World Cup 2015.
His skillset was and still is beyond doubt. However, the complexities of rugby union take a while to get used to. Many international players have been learning the game since a young age but it is not impossible to cross the codes, for example Sonny Bill Williams, Brad Thorn, Israel Folau and Jason Robinson. However, there are equally historic warnings. Henry Paul, Lesley Vainikolo and even England defence coach Andy Farrell didn’t make it when given the red rose jersey. Most startling of all is the story of Iestyn Harris. The fanfare over his arrival was heightened when he scored a hat-trick of tries and a total of 31 points in Heineken Cup win against Glasgow. He started at the pivotal number 10 position for Wales against Argentina and had an unsurprising difficult match with the Pumas getting the win thanks to the experienced Felipe Contemponi. Iestyn was a player rushed into international honours and history has been repeated with Sam Burgess.
As a result the finger of blame for this debacle has to be pointed at the RFU power brokers and England officials who made the move happen and the muddled way in which he was handled once he was here. Stuart Lancaster clearly saw him as an inside centre but Mike Ford as Bath head coach who worked with him on a daily basis positioned him at blindside flanker, where he played for the first 5 months of 2015. Either way he needed more time in one position and it was unfair that he was vilified for his predictable naivety against Wales in the World Cup by the media and ex-player commentators. As a confident sportsman, a leader and a physical presence he would not have doubted his abilities to do the job but his selection was a decision made by supposedly more knowledgeable coaches who clearly got it wrong. It is an embarrassing scenario and the only way in which to appease the people is for Lancaster and his team to go.
Imagine being Luther Burrell, Kyle Eastmond or Billy Twelvetrees. They have been spat in the face, publicly ridiculed and painted as not good enough to play 12 for England so instead they needed to bring in a rugby league player for 12 months. Those players and every other English rugby union player, who has dedicated their lives to excel in their sport, has been insulted and prevented from appearing at a World Cup tournament in their own country. The only way to regain the trust and morale of players is for the coaching team to go.
Sam Burgess will now be tarnished as the rugby league player who couldn’t make it in union and quit when the going got tough. However, he can hold his head up high because he did everything asked of him and was let down by the people who should have known better.