Sam Burgess told he'd play centre at RWC before switching to rugby union
Former NRL star Sam Burgess was allegedly told by an RFU representative that he would play for England at centre in the Rugby World Cup in 2015 before he made the switch to rugby union seven years ago.
According to former Bath rugby teammate Matt Banahan, Burgess told players at the club that an RFU representative had flown to Sydney to convince him to make a lucrative switch to the 15-man code ahead of England’s staging of the flagship competition.
Burgess was apparently told there and then that were he to make the switch, he would appear as a centre for England at RWC a year later.
Burgess signed a three-year contract for Bath in 2014 – reportedly for £500,000 a year – in what was the start of what was to become one of the defining subplots of England’s disastrous pool stage exit from their own World Cup.
However, then Bath head coach Mike Ford had insisted on playing the hulking ball carrier at blindside, despite England’s Stuart Lancaster having designs on starting him in the midfield. The fast-tracking of Burgess into the Test side was the subject of huge debate at the time, with many feeling that the South Sydney Rabbitohs star turned union flanker wasn’t ready for the step up and that his selection at the more nuanced and skill based first centre position was a rush-job.
Lancaster would ultimately select Burgess for his World Cup squad regardless, a decision that came at cost of England centre Luther Burrell, who was dropped just weeks prior to the tournament.
Now, according to Bath winger Banahan, Burgess’s pathway into England may have been pre-ordained, or at least the way Burgess told it.
“That [the Sam Burgess saga] was all a bit odd. I have nothing against Sam. He was a bit of pawn in it all really,” Banahan told Owain Jones in an in-depth interview on TheXV.rugby.
“He told a few of the boys a representative of the RFU flew out to Sydney and told him, ‘If you come back to the UK you can play in a World Cup as a centre’. As far as he was concerned, the package was good and it was an intriguing offer.
“I suppose you play this sport for a short time and try to make as much money as you can, I get that. It got a bit ugly after the World Cup and he looked after himself. No one died, but the fallout was messy.”
Burgess went on to leave Bath a year into his three year contract, returning to his beloved Rabbitohs and the NRL.
Now retired, Burgess has spoken about this time in union sporadically over the seven years since the saga, suggesting egos in the England camp were at fault for the exit.
“I seem to be getting a few tweets regarding the Rugby WC in 2015 … still,” said Burgess in 2018. “If people actually re-watched the games I participated in, you will see I added to the team. What cost us an early exit was individual egos and selfish players not following our leader, which essentially cost the coach [Lancaster] and other great men their jobs.”
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