The Sam Burgess Affair - Debacle or Inevitable?
Sam Burgess has spoken for the first time since his shock return to rugby league, stating that he is “extremely excited” by the prospect of playing for NRL side South Sydney Rabbitohs.
Bath confirmed on Friday morning that the 26 year-old had left the club with immediate effect. He has signed a three-year deal with the Rabbitohs, who are thought to have paid over £500,000 to secure his early release from his contract with the Premiership club, which still had two years to run.
Burgess thanked Bath for granting his early release and stated that family reasons had played a part in his decision. "I want to thank everyone at England Rugby and Bath for some great memories over the last 12 months," Burgess said. "I must also thank Bath especially for granting my release to return home to my family, who I have missed more than I could have imagined.”
"I am extremely excited to be joining back up with South Sydney," he added. "I cannot wait to get back into the Rabbitohs culture, full of great people and passionate members and supporters. "I had a wonderful time in England and learnt a lot about the game of rugby union as both a back and a forward, and I have definitely developed as an all-round player and athlete after that”. Burgess came under criticism for his part in England's World Cup campaign "I'm now very lucky to be given the chance to come back to Souths and serve this club."
Bath, who had denied Burgess had been on the verge of returning to rugby league, issued a short statement on Friday morning, stating “personal reasons” for his decision to leave the 15-a-side code, just a year since his high-profile switch. Bath said the club had “remained committed to Burgess’s ongoing development as a rugby union player since his move to the West Country”, but recognised that he no longer saw his future in the 15-man game. The club said they had “settled on agreeable terms within the last 24 hours” and had released him with immediate effect, meaning he will not be involved in their match against London Irish on Saturday.
“We hoped that Sam would stay at Bath,” said Mike Ford, Bath’s director of rugby. “He was doing really well in making the switch over from league and, given time, he could’ve been a great rugby union player. Unfortunately, for personal reasons, he is returning to Australia. Dual code international says family reasons played a part in his decision to turn his back on rugby union and return to league. “However, we’re fortunate that we’ve got some very high calibre players here at the Club, and with a big run of games coming up in the Aviva Premiership and the European Rugby Champions Cup, we’ll be fully focused on these.”
Burgess is heading back to Australia to join his brothers Rabbitohs head coach Michael Maguire said he was delighted that Burgess was returning to the club. "He had an enormously positive impact on our club, both on and off the field, throughout the five seasons he was here, and to be bringing back one of the game's most dominant players is fantastic for not only our club, but the game itself," Maguire said. "He wanted to test himself in rugby union and achieved many of his goals, becoming a dual international for England and representing his country at a World Cup.”
Burgess, from Dewsbury in West Yorkshire, played 21 games for Bath after joining them just over a year ago, scoring four tries and made the starting XV in the Premiership final defeat by Saracens. That form earned him a place in England’s World Cup training squad, albeit as a centre, and having impressed Stuart Lancaster in training was named as one of four centres in the 31-man squad, at the expense of Luther Burrell, who had started the last two Six Nations campaigns.
Stuart Lancaster's handling of Burgess has been questioned. Burgess had a solid debut in the first World Cup warm-up match against France and was named on the bench for England’s opening pool win against Fiji. After an injury to Jonathan Joseph, Lancaster chose to start Burgess at inside centre for the crunch game against Wales and while he delivered a solid performance, the changes made to accommodate him exposed defensive weaknesses in the backline. Burgess was dropped to the bench for the win-or-bust match against Australia and then out of the squad entirely for the dead rubber against Uruguay, He was given two weeks off by his club after the tournament but quickly made it clear he did not want to remain in rugby union.
Rugby stars round on handling of Burgess World Cup-winning coach Sir Clive Woodward, wrote in the Daily Mail: "I said last week that Sam Burgess is not to blame for this mess and I stand by it. But with his return to rugby league we've reached one of the all-time lows and most embarrassing points in English rugby history. The RFU has spent the last four years congratulating itself on the direction in which we're heading, but the truth is we have marched confidently into a total mess. The review after the 2011 World Cup was a shambles.
"Players and coaches let down by media leaks, good men exposed as scapegoats and lesser men hiding and shirking responsibility. Nothing has changed. We are the laughing stock of not only world rugby but also sport and business. The rest of the world says those involved in English rugby are arrogant. I hate this reputation, but that is exactly what the RFU have been."
Wasps flanker James Haskell told BBC Radio Five Live: "I'm sad because I'm losing a friend and rugby union is losing a star in the making but you can understand why he's doing it. Sam's the kind of guy who did everything for the team. If anyone ever did think anything critical they certainly didn't say it and I never saw any of it. He was a good man, and what I liked best about Sam was he never let anything get to him.
James Haskall says he is sorry to see his friend leave rugby union "I'm sorry to see a mate go across. Bath fans will miss him, I think the Bath boys will miss him, whoever gets back into the England squad will miss him because he's a top man and a good character. He's an unbelievable rugby league player, a guy who gave it his best shot at rugby union and made the England team and made the World Cup. I think he's got to be pretty happy with that."
Dual code international Jason Robinson told Sky Sports News HQ. "I am just saddened that we didn't get to see the best of Sam because I know this next year would have been the year that he really shone as a player", "I'm hugely disappointed to see him leave. He has only been in the game for 12 months. People don't realise how hard it is to make the transition from league to union. But having done it before I know the hardest part of it is in the first 12 months, getting to grips with the basics, the technicalities of the game and it becoming second nature. "For me Sam Burgess is not a quitter. He likes a challenge, that was the whole part of coming over to rugby union. So something else has gone on - whether that is the treatment [he has had] - but it doesn't ring right."
England's World Cup winner Matt Dawson wrote in the Mirror: "The Sam Burgess affair makes me feel sorry and furious. Sorry for Burgess and steaming with anger at whoever thought it would be a good idea to persuade him he could be a World Cup-standard centre eight months after switching over from rugby league. "Burgess deserves some sympathy. The people who forced the move through don’t and they should be held to account." Matt Dawson says Burgess deserves sympathy
Former England centre Jeremy Guscott said: "I thought he might have given it more of a go. I can't believe anyone wanted him to fail. "No-one who knows anything about rugby union is blaming him for anything he did on a rugby field. He was a brilliant rugby league player and took the opportunity to fulfil a dream. I don't see he played badly at all. He may have felt 'I thought I could do it, now I believe I can't'. Everyone in the world is allowed to change their mind."
Former England winger Mark Cueto told BBC Radio 5 Live: "I am massively surprised. It is a real shame, but it does not surprise me. He came over to rugby union and had nothing but bad press. Part of me is gutted he is going back but I can understand it. "He wasn't given the time, it is not a case of running away. Financially, he will better off. He is young man who has to look after himself. It is a short career."
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