Lancaster: Sam Burgess is a 'world-class' league player
ESPN Staff
February 7, 2014
Sam Burgess could be playing union later this year © PA Photos

England boss Stuart Lancaster has described rugby league star Sam Burgess as "world-class" but is refusing to be drawn on his potential ability as a union player.

Reports over the past couple of days have heavily linked Burgess with a move to union with Bath reportedly his destination. Lancaster met Burgess in August while on a fact-finding mission to Australia though has been quick to distance the Rugby Football Union from any approach to the rugby league star.

Cross-code switches sometimes click, in the case of Jason Robinson, while others, such as Chev Walker's failed move to union, flounder. For Lancaster, while he rates Burgess as a league player, he admits there are plenty of difficulties in the switch from one code to another.

"Clearly he is a world-class rugby league player," Lancaster said. "But as with any player who wants to make a transition, it is going to be difficult in a short space of time.

"Given the competitiveness of the squad we've got at the moment, any new player coming in would have to earn their right - as everyone else has done - by playing high-quality, consistent, top-level Premiership rugby.

"Let's talk about Kyle Eastmond. He was going to have to play well in the Premiership in order to get into the England team. That is only right and fair. That is the way it should be done."

While denying England's involvement in the cross-code raid, Lancaster hinted at his likely arrival with the 2019 rather than 2015 World Cup in mind.

"It would be a challenge, big time, for a player to change codes and play in the 2011 World Cup because of the nature of learning the sport and everything else that goes with it," he said. "But there's a bigger picture about developing a team that goes way beyond 2015 as well."

If Burgess does complete his move to union, there will be a transfer fee involved as he is tied to the Rabbitohs until 2016. The original reports of the move said the RFU may chip in to help his union suitor, though such a move may cause ructions in the Premiership according to reports on Friday.

"When the RFU last contributed to a rugby league player coming over there was disquiet among other Premiership clubs that a club had been given a helping hand by the RFU," Leicester Tigers chief Simon Cohen told The Times. "On the other side everybody wants England to do well at the World Cup. There were mixed feelings last time and it would be the same this time."

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