Lancaster denies Burgess will be fast-tracked
ESPN Staff
February 17, 2014
England's Sam Burgess attempts to force his way through the Fiji defence, England v Fiji, Rugby League World Cup, KC Stadium, Hull, November 9, 2013
Sam Burgess has a carrying game that is "easily transferable" to rugby union, England coach Stuart Lancaster says © PA Photos

England coach Stuart Lancaster said Sam Burgess will be a "great asset" in rugby union but warned there would be no fast-track into the World Cup squad.

Burgess, 25, will join Bath on a three-year contract in October, from Australian National Rugby League club South Sydney Rabbitohs, with the ambitious aim of trying to gain a place in Lancaster's squad for the 2015 Rugby World Cup in England.

But Lancaster is in no doubt Burgess can succeed as a union player even though several Great Britain or England rugby league internationals have struggled since the success of 2003 Rugby World Cup-winning wing Jason Robinson.

"Sam's carrying game will be easily transferable," Lancaster said. "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 will play as an inside centre at Bath, and Lancaster warned against the idea of fielding him in the pack, for all the player's physical strength, given the technical demands made upon forwards that have no equivalent in league.

"It's probably not my decision. The easiest way to start is without the complexity of the lineout and everything that goes with it - where there's work to be done on lifting and lineout and everything in the back row. But whatever position he plays, he will a great asset."

Asked about speculation that Burgess would ease into the England squad ahead of the World Cup, Lancaster said: "Sam is going to have to earn the right like anyone else. I've never said he's going to be fast-tracked. I had a discussion with Sam's representatives and said there will be no short-cut into the next elite player squad [EPS] that we announce in January.

"I can't see for one minute that [he] is going to be in that EPS squad having played two months of rugby union. If he earns the right to be an EPS player, he will have to do it the way everyone else has done it - by playing well for his club.

"The reality is that he'll go to Bath as a Bath player, and play for Bath in the second half of next season. It's going to be extremely difficult for a player to come from rugby league in October and then play in the 2015 Six Nations. If he makes the transition smoothly and effectively, and begins to play well during the second half of that season, then there is an outside chance he could make the World Cup training squad.

"If he makes the World Cup training squad, there are two warm-up games before the squad is announced ... "

Bath head coach Mike Ford, a former league player and an ex-England rugby union defence coach, expects Burgess to fit in "seamlessly" at the Recreation Ground. Burgess could form a midfield partnership with another league convert in Kyle Eastmond, the former St Helens halfback who won two England union caps during their 2013 tour of Argentina.

Burgess, one of the stars of last year's Rugby League World Cup, said of his impending move that "an opportunity presented itself to head back home to England and to pursue a chance to represent my country in two different sports".

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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