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'If England kept Sam Burgess, we could have won the World Cup in 2019'

By Josh Raisey
A dejected Sam Burgess and Chris Robshaw of England look on during the 2015 Rugby World Cup Pool A match between England and Australia at Twickenham Stadium on October 3, 2015 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

Eddie Jones will surely look back on his seven-year England tenure and have a lot of ‘what ifs’, but the biggest of all is probably something he had no control over whatsoever.

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While he might wish he picked a certain player in one match or played a different way in another, his biggest ‘what if’ could well be something that happened before he had even taken the reins at Twickenham.

Jones came in to save England following a disastrous World Cup campaign at the end of 2015, with his arrival coming just days after Sam Burgess’ departure back to the NRL. As a longtime admirer of rugby league, the Australian must ask himself what would have happened had he got a chance to work alongside the now-retired league superstar.

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Evan Roos on the advice he got from Eben Etzebeth

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Evan Roos on the advice he got from Eben Etzebeth

Jones has a healthy track record of working with league converts and getting the best out of them. His entire back three in the 2003 World Cup final had come from the NRL, and he was keen to fasttrack converts into his England team. Working with arguably the best rugby league player on the planet at the time would have been nothing short of a dream come true for Jones. But by the time he was signed, Burgess had already gone.

Joining Burgess’ former England rugby league teammate James Graham on The Bye Round Podcast recently, Jones looked over the “ridiculous” handling of the 2014 NRL winner by rugby union, before going on to explain what impact he would have made in his side, comparing him to England’s greatest ever import from league.

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“You just look at him, he’s a winner, isn’t he?” the 63-year-old said.

“Everywhere he goes he makes the team win. Tough, skilful. But they stuffed him up in rugby. They had him playing two positions. No one in rugby plays forward and back, because it’s too hard. So he was playing No6 for his club and No12 for England, it was just ridiculous to ask someone changing sports to play two positions. No one in rugby plays two positions. So they made it really difficult for him.

“If England had kept Sam Burgess, who knows, we could have won the World Cup in 2019, who knows? He’s a substantial player, a substantial player. You just watch what he does. If he had one position in rugby and he was playing that for his club and playing that for the nation, you don’t know what difference he could make.

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“I’m not saying we would have won the World Cup with him, but I’m saying potentially he could have been a point of difference. Like Jason Robinson in 2003 with England. Before they had Jason Robinson, they were a fairly solid team. But Jason Robinson gave them this X-factor that you couldn’t coach against because you didn’t know when he was coming in the back line- he didn’t know. They’re the players that you stay up at night and think ‘how are we going to close this bloke down?'”

Unfortunately for Jones, he explained how the horse had already bolted by the time he took on the job, and how there was no chance of a U-turn. “He’d already gone,” he said.

“And there was a bit of a sour relationship between him and rugby at that stage. I’ve caught up to him a few times since, but it was just too late.

“They hung him out to dry, and it would have been hard to get him back in any case.”

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When asked where he would have played Burgess, Jones was swift to answer.

“No.12,” he said with no hesitation whatsoever. “No.12. It’s hard for a rugby league forward to play in the forwards in rugby. So if they’re a fast back row or a good back row, they can play No12 in rugby union.

“He would have been massive.”

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Comments

19 Comments
R
Rolando 233 days ago

Eddie Jones has been a disaster as a rugby union coach of late, and has done indescribable damage to the game in Australia. He seems to be very enamoured with league, so why doesn’t he just go over to the NRL, tries to get a gig and leaves union for good? I bet many people in the game would be happy to see him go once and for all.

A
Andrew 233 days ago

While all the comments are probably true, so is the fact that Sam Burgess was hung out to dry by the RFU and blamed for the TEAM’s failure. (not England's best moment). Maybe there was better Union players available but Sam Burgess was brutal in defence. Against Wales, the Welsh players simply could not go through the centre ( including Jamie Roberts) and were staring defeat straight in the eye.
Given time and good coaching, he would have added ball carrying attack to his game (amongst other things) and with the support of his team mates, would have made the number 12 jersey his own, thereby terrifying all opposition (including the boks). I have no doubt.
But we're dealing with what ifs and a great opportunity missed (we worry about who will replace Tuilagi, but could he have ousted an on fire Sam Burgess from the team? Probably not). Please, RFU, don't continue making the same mistake. Let our world class players play for England. If you can’t sort out the premiership’s finances, at least allow our foreign based players to play for England. (the thought of Jack Willis lining up for France against England keeps me awake at night)

A
Andrew 233 days ago

Are you out of your mind. One of the chief reasons England performed so badly in the 2015 RWC was that Burgess had been parachuted in to the team in preference. to players who could actually play rugby union. He left so quickly because it was recognised by all what what an appallingly embarrassing and expensive blunder it was by the RFU. On a par with keeping EJ on after 2019. England lost the final because they were beaten up in the scrum. What a stupid article.

J
Joseph 233 days ago

With all due respect, England were comprehensively outplayed by South Africa in 2019. There’s very little to add to that.

R
Roelof 233 days ago

IF you slap wings on pug it will fly.
IF you paint stripes on a donkey it becomes a zebra
IF you make up sh!t like this you look like a fool.
What a waste of time reading this nonsense. No matter what Eddie through at the 2019 final bok team, they would have kikcked ass. They showed up switched on and ready to win. The England team thought they only needed to show up. England was never going to win that final because the Bokke dont lose in WC finals. Klaar!

A
Alastair 233 days ago

I didn’t know Sam Burgess could scrummage! I guess his league background really prepared him for that.

D
Daniel 233 days ago

England got whipped properly in the 2019 final. There’s no chance one player would have changed that outcome.

J
JJGhost 233 days ago

World Rugby privately acknowledged that England deserved a free try in the 2019 final to offset their Eddie Jones handicap.

T
Tony 233 days ago

“No one in rugby plays two positions” - mmm, there’s someone playing for Fiji and La Rochelle at 7 and 12 who is really rather good, among the best in the world!

R
Red 233 days ago

Says the man that played England players out of position on a whim. Says the man that stayed with the old guard with England but dropped the old guard Aussie players like a stone The one consistent thing about Eddie is he likes to be inconsistent.
When are RP going to forget about him and let him be.

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