Next Autumn will mark four years since England’s embarrassing demise at the 2015 Rugby World Cup, and the debate over who exactly was to blame for their early exit is still bubbling.
England became the first host nation to fail to progress from the pool stage of a World Cup, following defeats to Wales and Australia, leading to a shakeup where the RFU and head coach Stuart Lancaster parted ways.
The blame has been directed in many different directions in the following years after England’s failure, but Sam Burgess was keen to clear his name and point the finger at others in the squad.
Burgess, who switched from Rugby League to stake a place in the squad, claimed that ‘individual egos’ and ‘selfish players’ who had their ‘own agendas’ made success impossible.
Some thought Burgess was alluding to James Haskell but the Northampton flanker denies the claims and refused the reveal who the finger of blame was actually being pointed.
“I know exactly who Sam’s talking about,” Haskell told Joe.
“I’m going to plead the fifth, just because it would send viewing figures through (the roof), but I don’t really want to throw anyone under the bus.”
The former England international and World Cup winner Mike Tindall was also present in the interview and supported Haskell’s stance of not releasing a name.
“People like James aren’t going to be the Cyril Sneers who throw people under the bus,” Tindall began.
“He’s quite happy to share his opinion, loud, he’s great to be around the team and he’s a team man. He’ll play for the team and he’ll do what’s right if a coach asks it. Even if he disagrees with it, he’ll have that conversation, but he’ll still do what he’s asked to do because that’s being part of a team. The people you’re worried about are the ones who hide in a corner.”
Haskell, who has accumulated 77 caps for his country, did open up slightly more after being asked if he recognised the inflated egos that Burgess referred to.
“No, I think…I love Sam, I think he’s an incredible player, I think he’s had an unbelievable career,” Haskell expressed.
“He obviously took a lot of flack for 2015, I think unfairly. I think he always tried to acquit himself in the best possible way he could. He always put his body on the line.
“I would say that I don’t recognise everything he’s saying. I think I know exactly who he’s talking about, but I think one of the issues was the comfort to speak your mind.
“If you come under any pressure and the relationships haven’t been developed, or the players aren’t able to speak, or things aren’t being said out in the open, then that’s what can erode a situation.”
Haskell went on to add “everybody worked hard” in the squad and that it was the “fittest he’s ever been”. He also elaborated on what the key causes of their failure were.
“We didn’t necessarily get selection right. We didn’t do bits and pieces we needed to get right, but we did work really hard and everyone tried to pull in the right direction. But when things came on pressure, perhaps some of the foundation bits weren’t as strong as people thought.”
With Burgess and Haskell taking slightly different stances on the situation, it will be interesting to see if any other former squad members chip in with their opinions.