Sam Burgess has sensationally lifted the lid on the fallout from the 2015 World Cup with England and his swift departure from Bath in the aftermath, accusing Mike Ford, his then club coach, of being a “snake” whom he alleged tried to “sabotage” national team boss Stuart Lancaster.
Having come from the NRL-winning Rabbitohs, massive hype had surrounded the arrival of Burgess from league into union with the hope of playing his way into Lancaster’s plans for the world finals that were being held in England.
Burgess earned a start at inside centre in England’s second pool match versus Wales, a reshuffle that resulted in George Ford, Mike’s son who had started the opener at No10 versus Fiji, being dropped to the bench.
That apparently changed George Ford’s relationship with Burgess and the rancour then carried over to Bath when the league convert returned after the finals, telling Mike Ford he could no longer play for him as he no longer respected him as a coach.
Speaking in an extensive House of Rugby interview, Burgess candidly gave his version of what allegedly happened during those months between him earning selection in Lancaster’s World Cup squad and his hurried departure from Bath back into the arms of the Rabbitohs in Sydney.
“I went into the World Cup and the politics went through the roof,” he said. “You can all read between the lines. I think Mike Ford wanted the England job and George playing ten, and Owen (Farrell) at ten and me twelve, there was a lot going on behind the scenes that people don’t quite understand that influenced a lot of outside opinions.
“England picked me at twelve and that is where the lines started getting murky and the politics were played and I was just right in the middle of it. It doesn’t take a genius to work out. We played the first game against Fiji and Brad Barritt and JJ (Jonathan Joseph) were twelve and 13. JJ got injured and then for game two against Wales they started Owen at ten, me at twelve and Brad at 13 and put George on the bench whereas in game one George was at ten.
“This is where it got interesting because George is on the bench against Wales and George is upset with me during the week thinking I had orchestrated this. I went, ‘How could I orchestrate that?’ Mike’s then done his thing in the press and it just got a bit murky. Then we lose the game against Wales which was bananas, I really don’t know how we lost…
“I just felt that people behind the scenes were playing a deeper game. The biggest thing was that Mike Ford wanted the England coaching job, so his job was to try sabotage Lancaster and his decision making and his coaching methods.
“With George being his son, that infiltrated into the camp. After me starting against Wales, my relationship with George completely changed. He wouldn’t talk to me, he was a bit sulky and Mike was a bit shady in the background. We lost, fell out of the World Cup and that’s when I went back to Bath and I couldn’t sit in the same room as Mike. I had to tell him I couldn’t play for him anymore, I’d lost respect for him.
“I came back from World Cup, went straight into his room and said, ‘Mike, I don’t want to play for you anymore, I don’t trust you. I think you’re playing games around my back. You used me a pawn in your game of chess. I can’t put my boots on and play for you every week’.
“His response was, ‘Take ten days off, come back, maybe you’ll change’. I went to Spain for 10 days… he asked me if I changed my mind and I said, ‘No, I’m, serious here, I’m going. Let’s get the deal done’.
Burgess was contracted with Bath through to the end of 2015, but Rabbitohs owner Russell Crowe secured his release overnight and he was quickly on his way back to Australia. While he was flying, Ford did media in England that was uncomplimentary of Burgess.
Danny Cipriani was the first name chosen by Josh Raisey when picking this particular England XV https://t.co/OMBdUIFOSV
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) June 3, 2020
“This is probably going to cause a bit of trouble but I’m not trying to cause trouble,” continued Burgess, who retired from NRL at the end of the 2019 season in Australia while the Ford father and son combination has since reunited at Leicester Tigers. “When I left Bath, I left quietly, I didn’t do any media… then when I was in the air, that is when Mike had his couple of jabs in the press.
“I had to laugh because I’ll never forget Mike’s face when I said to him, ‘Mike, I don’t respect you anymore. I don’t. I think you’re a bit of a snake’ and I’ll never forget the quiver I got from him. I had just landed back in Sydney and had to front a press conference which was huge in Australia and that [Ford’s allegation of Burgess not being fully committed] was a question.
“I didn’t realise he had said that and I laughed. ‘Mike Ford said that?’ They said, ‘Yeah’. It’s funny but I didn’t respond to it because what’s the point? He showed his true colours, he showed me who he was and I told Bruce Craig in fact, the owner at Bath. I told Bruce, ‘Mike is not the guy who will take you to glory, he won’t take you to a championship, he is too selfish’. Six months later they sacked him.
“If you look at Mike’s career you will go, there’s a bit of a pattern of what Mike comes in and does. He comes underneath somebody, jumps up and gets the top job after a few years and then goes somewhere else.
“Me saying that to Bruce at the time: we had just made Premiership final the year before (2014/15) but look at the team we had. We had the most amazing team but we still couldn’t get the job done at the time because it wasn’t about winning, it was about individuals’ ego rather than just being successful as a company, a club or a franchise.”
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