Much ado about Burgess: Ten things we learned from the slammin’ Sam debacle

When Sam Burgess left the South Sydney Rabbitohs and the National Rugby League in Australia to join English Rugby Union side Bath, he caused quite a stir. But ‘Slammin’ Sam’s stay was short lived and ultimately disappointing. Gabriel Pennington reviews 10 things we learned about Sam Burgess during his brief stint in Rugby Union.

1. Sam Burgess didn’t cost England the World Cup

He didn’t go out on the field and embarrass himself, nor did he make any costly mistakes in crucial moments. Many seem to forget Wales trailed England by 7 with 10 minutes to go when Burgess was substituted for George Ford, after which the decimated Wales side illustrated an unlikely turnaround.

Newcastle University’s Rugby Union and Rugby League Presidents were asked what they made of the Burgess debacle. Alex Leahy, Newcastle’s Rugby League President, believes the selectors were justified in their decision, “If the coach has chosen him then he’s good enough. It’s not like he had a mare for England either, like at Bath, he always did a job. I think the issue is people expected him to excel from the get-go, which was never going to happen.”

“He didn’t go out on the field and embarrass himself, nor did he make any costly mistakes in crucial moments”

2. We were always bound to #BlameBurgess

The ex-league superstar was destined to be the scapegoat for criticism if England were to underachieve at the World Cup. Losing to the Aussies again? #BlameBurgess. England are out after the 3rd round of matches? #BlameBurgess.

“The ex-league superstar was destined to be the scapegoat for criticism if England were to underachieve at the World Cup”

Leahy was quick to defend Burgess in the light of such social media slander, “I think with all the hype around him jumping codes the media were always going to be harsh on him. When there’s a story to be had they’ll write it, and if that means they have to be negative about somebody they will be.”

3. It could mark the end for cross-coders in rugby

Having witnessed the apparent failure of Sam Burgess’ transition into Union, the Rugby Union governing body, the RFU, may no longer look to League to attract some of the brightest talent. However, refusing to consider Rugby League stars would be detrimental for both club and international level Union.

Worldwide superstars like All Black Sonny-Bill William and Australian Israel Folau are some of Rugby’s most exciting and gifted performers, both of whom began their careers in League and rose to the top before making the switch.

England would be foolish to risk missing out on such opportunities. Jason Robinson is a prime example of a star cross-coder. Imagine the impact on the national Union team had he not played a part.

4)Luther Burrell was perhaps a better choice

The argument that Luther Burrell and former St Helens RL star Kyle Eastmond should both have been selected for England’s World Cup squad, in front of Burgess, is everywhere.

Rugby Union President George Adams doesn’t believe Burgess should’ve been involved. “From a management point of view, it was a shocking decision to include him in the squad. Leaving out the likes of Luther Burrell, a tried and tested test match player, for Burgess is a howling error.”

5. Stuart Lancaster’s exit was not Burgess’ fault

Arguments that Stuart Lancaster’s reputation has been permanently damaged by the Burgess selection couldn’t be further from the truth. The coach’s resignation did not hinge on his decision to call up the Bath number 6.

With Burgess on the sidelines, the English couldn’t overcome a weakened Welsh outfit in spite of the fact they held a lead, and were hung out to dry by Bernard Foley, the Aussie fly-half.

The downfall of the English coaching regime came down to the fact the coach couldn’t find a combination of players that produced success, even after four years of preparation.

6. We’ll never know his full Union potential.

The guy is a legend in English Rugby League, achieving his sort of success in the NRL, Australia’s elite Rugby League competition, is unheard of from English players in the modern era.

After a certain amount of game time, it’s difficult to believe a player with his combination of defensive prowess and physical attributes wouldn’t have become a dominant force within Union.

Adams states, “at the next RWC I believe he would have been a star, but this year’s competition was too soon for him.” Alex Leahy agrees he had the potential to be a Union star, “given a bit more time I think he may have been great at both codes but now we’ll never know.”

“it’s difficult to believe a player with his combination of defensive prowess and physical attributes wouldn’t have become a dominant force within Union”

7. Some of Burgess’ critics are downright spiteful.

“Goodbye, good riddance” was the message sent to Sam Burgess in Paul Ackford’s article in The Times. This position, adopted by some in the Union community, speaks to the arrogance of numerous former players.

The idea the sport is better off without Burgess, a cross-code superstar who attracts an international following, is comical.

Leahy argues, “I’d say people were just a bit nitpicky over everything he did, everyone makes errors in a game it’s just all of his were often highlighted. I think ex-players were particularly guilty of this.”

8. Union and League need relationship counselling.

The fracture between League and Union supporters is still present. Burgess’ trial by Union merely exposed it to a wider audience. The South Sydney star had nothing left to prove to League fans upon his departure and most of those supporters will defend him to the death.

His return down-under has simply amplified the voices of the faithful League and Union advocates, particularly of those that refuse to see any redeeming features belonging to the other code.

9. It’s very Good news for Rugby League fans…

Rugby League has regained one of its biggest attractions. The sport in Australia really doesn’t need any help; over there it’s the big brother. Union plays second fiddle to the NRL and Aussie-Rules Football League.

But the sport has struggled in recent years to gain much traction from the British media. The Grand Final and Challenge Cup weekends are often the only occasions the sport registers on Britain’s radar.

However, Burgess’ departure from Union along with Sam Tomkins’ return to the northern hemisphere may provide the star attractions League needs to lift its profile in the UK.

10. …It’s not such good news for Union fans.

The RFU is losing a potential star of the future. League may indeed be reacquiring one of its standout names, but Burgess’ lack of success in Union only presents ammunition to those questioning whether English League stars have what it takes to become code-breakers.

“The Aviva Premiership, England’s domestic Rugby Union league, has lost one of its star attractions and truthfully, there aren’t many left”

The Aviva Premiership, England’s domestic Rugby Union league, has lost one of its star attractions and truthfully, there aren’t many left. Whatever your opinion of Sam Burgess, there’s no questioning his raw talent and star attraction.

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