England Saxons v Irish Wolfhounds
Callard defends Burgess display on debut
ESPN Staff
January 31, 2015
Burgess tackle Irish Wolfhounds' centre Keith Earls © Getty Images

Sam Burgess suffered a forgettable first appearance in an England shirt but was defended by Saxons coach Jon Callard, who was pleased with his contribution.

Burgess had been fast-tracked into the Saxons squad after just 313 minutes of top level rugby for Bath since his switch to union from the NRL.

However, he struggled on his first appearance for the Saxons, with a high error count that included sending a pass into touch, conceding an early penalty and producing a failed offload. Callard was quick to defend the inside centre, however, saying:

"Sam has a had a great week for us, but unfortunately didn't have the ball on the front foot and probably tried to force a couple of things," Callard said. "He made a lovely little break and offload, which is what his strength is, but we just couldn't get him into the game at set piece.

"But he was influential on the shape we had in attack. He pulled defenders out with his running, which created space out wide. What he did with the ball in hand wasn't there to see, but he did a lot of good stuff without the ball. Sam has only had a session and a half in the England set-up, but he created space for others and that's what the game is about."

Fly-half Henry Slade and wing Christian Wade scored tries in a hard-fought win against a strong Wolfhounds team, but it was a flawed performance at Irish Independent Park with the set-piece particularly weak.

"Stuart Lancaster talked to the squad on Monday and told the players he expected them to win and expected to be hurting that they've been left out of the senior squad," Callard said. "I'm very proud of our attacking rugby. The players gave everything against a good Irish side."

Sean O'Brien made a successful return from shoulder surgery and Ireland must now decide whether he is ready for their Six Nations opener against Italy in Rome on Saturday.

"I got 50 minutes under my belt and I was just happy to be out there. Ideally I'd like more game time before Italy, but there aren't any more opportunities," O'Brien said.

"I'd usually like to get two or three games under my belt but with the short window that's not possible. There was no reaction on the shoulder and that will give me confidence. I took a few good hits so I'm happy enough."

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