Rugby Union

Sam Burgess can inspire England to World Cup glory

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Sam Burgess heroically etched his name into rugby league folklore on Sunday with a sublime showing of courage and fortitude to bounce back from a significant early injury blow to guide the South Sydney Rabbitohs to a terrific victory over the Canterbury Bulldogs in the NRL grand final at ANZ Stadium.

For most sportsmen, a fractured cheekbone - sustained during virtually the first contact of the game - would be acceptable grounds for an immediate substitution and swift medical attention.

For the incredibly resilient Burgess, however, the problem proved nothing more than a minor irritation as he went on to produce a vintage Man of the Match display to secure the Rabbitohs' first Premiership title in 43 long years and a deserved post-game embrace from co-owner and silver screen star Russell Crowe.

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Bath switch

Sunday's eventful final was to be Burgess' last game in rugby league, of course, with the irrepressible 25-year-old set to switch codes this month and move to represent Bath in the Aviva Premiership.

Unfortunately, that aforementioned injury - which will obviously require surgery to correct - looks almost certain to slightly postpone his foray into the world of union and fans at the Rec may have to wait a little longer before seeing their latest recruit in action.

However, despite this, one cannot help but analyse his performances down under and ponder the undeniably exciting possibility of Burgess earning a place in Stuart Lancaster's squad for next summer's World Cup on home soil.

A ferociously powerful runner with excellent handling skills and a fierce competitive streak, the versatile former Bradford Bulls forward certainly has the ability to force his way into the party for the keenly-anticipated tournament and make a real impact for his country once again.

Where will he play?

The question on everyone's lips prior to Burgess' arrival in the West country is certainly a valid one - just where on earth is he going to fit into a Bath side that have been so strong so far this season and already boast formidable strength in depth? Is it possible that he could play one position for his club but be used elsewhere for England if called upon by Lancaster?

It is expected that Burgess will be best utilised as a centre moving forward, although one could certainly argue quite convincingly that Bath head coach Mike Ford can already boast the Premiership's most in-form backline pairing in the form of Jonathan Joseph and league convert Kyle Eastmond - both of whom will also be pushing hard for further international recognition in the crucial months ahead.

As experienced and respected rugby writer Robert Kitson ponders in the Guardian, Ford will surely be reluctant to prematurely dismantle such a promising partnership and risk altering the harmony of a back unit that have looked so devastating in recent weeks as Bath impressively seek to challenge the established order and return to the playoffs after narrowly missing out last season.

Forward role an option

The sheer talent possessed by Burgess means he could hardly be identified as a potential weak link and it is unlikely that he will be simply content with a place on the bench given his lofty reputation and after playing such a pivotal role throughout his league career.

Could it be, therefore, that he will reprise his role as back-rower after entering union? And what impact could that have on a potential England place?

Midfield is an area that Lancaster has yet to really nail down on a consistent basis. Having appeared to reluctantly settle on a pairing of Gloucester's Billy Twelvetrees and Northampton powerhouse Luther Burrell for the Six Nations, the brief experiment of playing Manu Tuilagi out on the wing in New Zealand was hardly a success so it seems like it will very much now be a case of the latter and one other in that area moving forward.

England's not-so-secret weapon?

Whatever position he plays in, Burgess is a phenomenal talent and should prove a significant asset to Bath, the Premiership and rugby union in general.

Providing he can make a seamless and relatively speedy transition to a new code, there is no reason to believe he cannot make a serious run at the England squad for the World Cup. 

Once there, he could be the x-factor that Lancaster needs to help challenge the supremacy of the traditional southern hemisphere giants.

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Rugby Union
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