Despite the significant hindrance of inconsistency in selection, Sam Burgess has called time on his career in rugby union too soon. Less than a week since the climax of the Rugby World Cup, Bath and head coach Mike Ford have lost a significant investment and English rugby, a serious talent.
Burgess’ reasons for returning are obvious. The opportunity to play alongside his younger brothers Tom and George, for both South Sydney Rabbitohs and a highly promising England side, will have been an important factor in his decision.
Whereas, the former Bath flanker has been unfairly scapegoated since England’s early departure from the World Cup; as the winner of the Clive Churchill medal in the 2014 NRL final as part of the Rabbitohs' first title in 43 years, Burgess is revered in Sydney and globally in the 13-man game.
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The only factor holding up the former centre’s decision will have been his strength of character. Stuart Lancaster was seduced by the convert’s aura and unflinching attitude and it is this mentality which drove Burgess to want to be a success in union a year ago. Overall the player’s year in ‘kick and clap’ has been a failure but one he isn’t directly responsible for.
Learning a new game is always extremely difficult, regardless of the player’s pedigree in their preferred code. Learning two entirely separate positions, in time for a home World Cup within a year, was a monumental task and one the Yorkshireman should never have been burdened with.
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Burgess has been let down by union and the England coaching staff, in particular, due to their insistence on him playing centre, despite his improving club form at six towards the end of last season for Bath. However, the decision to return was entirely his own and regardless of the circumstances, one he has made too soon.
With Ford’s repeated assurances that he would be backed at blind-side flanker, Burgess had a real opportunity to write a new chapter in his union career.
As a hugely powerful player in contact, both whilst tackling and carrying, the former Bradford Bull had huge potential in the back-row and despite making England’s squad for the Six Nations would have been another tall order - largely because of a wasted summer learning the intricacies of playing in the midfield - Burgess would almost certainly have added to his five international appearances.
The dye has, however, been cast. Russel Crowe's "sparkly-eyed man" will return to his boyhood game where he will re-establish himself as one of league’s greatest players whilst his former coach, Lancaster will surely pay the price for a hugely disappointing year at the helm of English rugby.
Burgess’ return to Sydney and rugby league was always likely at some point, but by leaving just one season into a three-year contract, the 26-year-old must live with being the latest in a list of players who have failed to convert codes, a list ironically headed by Burgess’ chief backer Andy Farrell.
Though the player’s lack of success in the past 12 months is not his own fault, Burgess has still shirked this challenge and rugby union has lost a potential star.
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