Burgess code switch welcomed

2014-02-17 19:31
Sam Burgess (Getty)

London - England rugby union coach Stuart Lancaster forecasts that Sam Burgess would be a "great asset" in the 15-man game following his high-profile move from rugby league.

The 25-year-old will join English Premiership side Bath on a three-year contract in October from Australian rugby league side South Sydney Rabbitohs, with the ambitious aim of trying to gain a place in Lancaster's squad for next year's Rugby World Cup in England.

While England's 2003 World Cup-winning wing Jason Robinson was a notable success following his move from league, several Great Britain or England league internationals such as Burgess have struggled in union since the advent of professionalism.

But Lancaster was in no doubt Burgess could succeed as a union player.

"Sam's carrying game will be easily transferable," Lancaster said Monday after news of Burgess's move was made public.

"His understanding of running lines and defence are skills that he'll be able to transition, although I wouldn't say it's easy.

"The big difference comes in and around the breakdown and the difference in gap between the defensive lines, which is obviously closer in rugby union, so timing is obviously an issue.

"In terms of overall rugby skill set, he has a very strong skill set.

"So I think he'll be a real asset, but there's a lot of learning to be done as well."

There have been suggestions that Burgess could play as an inside centre at Bath, and Lancaster warned against the idea of fielding him in the pack, for all the league star's physical strength, given the technical demands made upon forwards that have no equivalent in league.

"It's probably not my decision," Lancaster said. "The easiest way to start is without the complexity of the line-out and everything that goes with it -- where there's work to be done on lifting and line-out and everything in the back row.

"But whatever position he plays, he will a great asset."

Bath head coach Mike Ford, a former league player and an ex-England rugby union defence coach, said he expected Burgess to fit in "seamlessly" at the Recreation Ground.

When Burgess arrives at the west country club, he could form a midfield partnership with another league convert in Kyle Eastmond.

A former St Helens half-back, Eastmond won two England union caps during last year's tour of Argentina.

Earlier Burgess, one of the stars of last year's Rugby League World Cup, told the Rabbitohs website: "An opportunity presented itself to head back home to England and to pursue a chance to represent my country in two different sports.

"With 2015 being a Rugby World Cup, it was an opportunity I had to pursue, and I thank the Rabbitohs for allowing me to make this move and start the next chapter in my sporting career."

Read more on:    stuart lancaster  |  rugby

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