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'I absolutely don't blame him for wanting to f*** off and go back'

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

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Ex-England lock Dave Attwood has provided a compelling take on the failed Sam Burgess experiment in rugby union. The rugby league star was signed from the NRL in Australia and debuted for Bath in November 2014, going on to make an England debut the following August in time for the 2015 World Cup. However, England’s pool stage elimination resulted in much of the blame being heaped on Burgess and he soon quit Bath, opting to return to South Sydney Rabbitohs and resume his career back in the NRL.  

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All these years later, the story remains a huge talking point and Attwood, a club and country teammate at the time of Burgess, has now given his side of a story that began with Mike Ford signing the cross-code player for Bath and ended with Stuart Lancaster’s England bombing out of the World Cup just three games into their pool schedule. 

“There were some amazing things,” said Attwood when asked on RugbyPass Offload for his memories of the year Burgess spent in union at Bath and England. “The whole organisation was called into a meeting and Mike Ford played a video of Sam Burgess highlights from rugby league. 

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Dave Attwood on bust ups with Owen Farrell, Sam Burgess & new Bath era | RugbyPass Offload | EP 35
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Dave Attwood on bust ups with Owen Farrell, Sam Burgess & new Bath era | RugbyPass Offload | EP 35

“He was like, ‘It’s exciting times, we have signed the best player in the world’. Cue the video. It’s narrated by Russell Crowe, basically talking about how amazing Sam is and is the best thing ever in rugby league… and then at the end of it, silence. 

“Fordy stands up and he is clapping on his own because everyone else is like, ‘What? What do you mean he is the best player in the world? He hasn’t even played the game before. He plays a different game, you do realise that Fordy, you realise you have signed someone who plays a different sport?’ It didn’t get off to the best start. 

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“We had a few abrasive characters in the squad as well so people like Carl Fearns, who is very abrasive, relative negative, and Matt Garvey, who is the most negative person you have ever met in the world, basically were pushed aside to bring Sam Burgess in and they rightly felt their nose was put out of joint. He could have been amazing for rugby union, he genuinely could have been a 50-capper England international but they forced him in too soon, there was a lot of disagreement between England and Bath.

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“For me, he was a back row, he wasn’t a centre and I felt there was an element that whatever powers were trying to push him in that Andy Farrell mould of being a rugby league player moving into midfield. So there was a bit of conflict between club and country where he was going to play and he basically didn’t understand the game philosophically.

“He was a back row who never ever hit a breakdown and never jumped in a lineout. So they were trying to shoehorn him into the team and play him where he doesn’t have to do any of that stuff, which is basically what you are supposed to do as a back row. 

“It was unfortunate that he didn’t fit the mould, and then the whole World Cup debacle fell apart and everyone blamed him. I absolutely don’t blame him for wanting to f*** off and go back. In Australia, he was a f***in’ rock star, a massive deal and he came to Bath where most people didn’t know who he was and those who did think he is an arsehole and f***ed everything up. 

“The whole thing was managed really unfairly on him and he suffered a lot of fallback. Unfortunately for us as a squad, because he had signed this long-term deal there were a number of guys whose noses were put out. Carl Fearns left, went down to Lyon and immediately got player of the year out on France. 

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“The structure of our team fell apart. He went back to Australia and left a great big f***ing hole in the squad. It wasn’t his fault but it left us down as an organisation because we had all of this finance put into this guy and he then suddenly disappeared.”

How much was he pocketing? “I was told it was half a million for Bath and I was also told it was a similar amount from England,” suggested Attwood, who added that as a teammate Burgess was a decent guy. “He was straight into the WhatsApp group and lads were, ‘Welcome Sam, show us your dick’. He was, ‘Yeah, alright’, instantly sent a selfie of his dick. No one was expecting that. 

“He was a genuinely good bloke, a nice bloke, worked hard but the management of the whole place, they didn’t manage the situation very well and unfortunately he was the fall-out guy.”  

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