x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Burgess’ move from rugby league to rugby union far from a sure success

England coach says code switcher will not receive any special treatment

England's Sam Burgess, centre, pictured playing against France on Oct. 23, 2009, is switching rugby codes, from league to union, in a bid to become a World Cup winner with England in 2015. Jon Super / AP Photo
England's Sam Burgess, centre, pictured playing against France on Oct. 23, 2009, is switching rugby codes, from league to union, in a bid to become a World Cup winner with England in 2015. Jon Super / AP Photo

Any questions Sam Burgess had about the scale of the task confronting him in his bid to make it into England’s 2015 World Cup squad were put to rest this week.

In October, the rugby league international will swap codes to join the English union side Bath on a three-year contract from the Australian outfit South Sydney Rabbitohs.

In union’s early days as a professional sport, England officials seemed almost desperate for league converts and even financed their moves in some cases. Times have changed, placing Burgess’s ambitious aim in perspective.

“Sam is going to have to earn the right like anyone else – I’ve never said he’s going to be fast-tracked into the World Cup squad,” said Stuart Lancaster, the England rugby union coach.

Jason Robinson, England’s 2003 World Cup winner, has so far been the exception that proves the rule when it comes to league-to-union moves by English players.

But Burgess should be wary of the career paths of fellow code breakers Andy Farrell and Henry Paul, who struggled to come to terms with union’s greater complexity. Farrell played at the 2007 World Cup but earned only eight caps after a glittering league career at Wigan.

But the worst-case scenario for Burgess is the fate of Paul – also a Wigan hero – who played so badly in the last of his six Test caps that he was replaced after just 24 minutes against Australia in 2004.

sports@thenational.ae