Rugby union's uneasy relationship with Rugby League will again be scrutinised after Sam Burgess leaves one year into a three-year contract with Bath
Sam Burgess has left Bath and England with immediate effect, with the Dewsbury-born player heading for Sydney and a welcome return to his Rugby League team, the South Sydney Rabbitohs in the NRL.
With Bath’s owner Bruce Craig only yesterday at the EPCR launch, reiterating that Burgess would see out his three-year deal, the news will be met with consternation by many in Union, and glee in Rugby League where many felt Burgess had been harshly treated.
The Rabbitohs confirmed the signing this evening, with Burgess saying: “I must thank Bath especially for granting my release to return home to my family who I have missed more than would have imagined. I want to thank everyone at England Rugby and Bath for some great memories over the last 12 months.”
Burgess had made his debut for Bath on November 29, 2014, and less than a year later his departure will be seen as a high-profile failure. After making little impact as an inside-centre in his first few outings, Mike Ford has switched him to the back-row – where he saw his future – and in a handful of appearances at No 6, he showed enough promise to make many in the game feel he could prosper there. In his 17th and final appearance for Bath he put in his strongest showing in the Premiership final, where he notably drove Billy Vunipola backwards in trademark hit.
England, however, had a different view on Burgess, and despite an inauspicious start with the Saxons in January, the 26-year-old was named in the 51-man training squad. Stuart Lancaster said he would be viewed as a No 12 for the Rugby World Cup, after he had performed well in training and shown clear leadership qualities.
After making his debut against France, where again, he showed his defensive power in an eye-catching debut, he was controversially chosen in the 31-man England squad, with rumours Andy Farrell was a strong advocate of his, at the expense of Northampton’s Luther Burrell, who had been a key part of the England midfield during the previous 18 months.
Viewed as an impact sub for the tournament, Burgess ended up making three appearances. He came off the bench against Fiji, before being thrust into a starting position against Wales along with Brad Barritt when Jonathan Joseph was ruled out with a pectoral injury. While not at fault for the pivotal 28-25 loss, England’s lack of creativity and balance was criticised. He again came off the bench for his final Union appearance against Australia, where his final act was a reckless high-tackle on Michael Hooper, as England crashed out of the tournament before being omitted from the squad for Uruguay entirely.
Rumours of his imminent departure have been circulating in recent weeks, and it appears Burgess will be the highest-profile league convert to fail to make the code switch successfully.
There will fears that in the wake of England’s disastrous tournament, he will not be last of the casualties as the fallout is dissected on the back pages.