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England coach: Burgess could be ‘real asset’

February 17, 2014

LONDON (AP) — Sam Burgess’ future switch to rugby union was welcomed by England coach Stuart Lancaster, who said the rugby league star will not be rushed into the 2015 World Cup squad.

Burgess confirmed on Monday he’s signed a three-year deal with English Premiership club Bath, which paid a reported 500,000 pounds ($838,000) for South Sydney Rabbitohs to release the forward after the NRL season in October with two years left on their contract.

“With 2015 being a Rugby World Cup, it was an opportunity I had to pursue,” Burgess said.

But Lancaster said Burgess will have to earn the right to be chosen for England.

“I’ve never said he’s going to be fast-tracked into the World Cup squad,” the coach said on Monday.

“I had a discussion with Sam’s representatives and said there will be no shortcut into the next elite player squad that we announce in January. I can’t see for one minute that Sam Burgess is going to be in that EPS squad having played two months of rugby union.

“If he earns the right to be an EPS player, he will have to do it the way everyone else has done it, by playing well for his club.

“It’s going to be extremely difficult for a player to come from rugby league in October and then play in the 2015 Six Nations.

“If he makes the transition smoothly and effectively and begins to play well during the second half of that season, then there is an outside chance he could make the World Cup training squad. If he makes the World Cup training squad, there are two warmup games before the squad is announced ...”

Lancaster believed Burgess, who helped England reach the Rugby League World Cup semifinals in November, can be “a real asset.”

“Sam’s carrying game will be easily transferable,” he said. “His understanding of running lines and defence are skills he’ll be able to transition, although I wouldn’t say it’s easy.

“The big difference comes in and around the breakdown, and the difference in gap between the defensive lines, which is obviously closer in rugby union, so timing is an issue.

“He has a very strong skill set, so he’ll be a real asset, but there’s a lot of learning to be done as well.”

England assistant coach Andy Farrell, who switched codes in 2005 and played in the 2007 World Cup, has said Burgess was “a fighter and a warrior” with the kind of attitude he and Lancaster loved.

Rugby union, Farrell said, “does take some time to get used to as far as instinct is concerned. It’s a tough ask but some people can get to grips with it quicker than others.”

Burgess could follow the example of Sonny Bill Williams, another league forward who switched to union in 2008. When he returned home to New Zealand in 2010, he became an All Blacks midfielder almost immediately and played in the 2011 World Cup.

Burgess’ position could be inside centre, although Bath coach Mike Ford said they’ll wait until he arrives before deciding.

“All he needs to do is have a good season for Sydney, come over here and work really hard,” Ford said. “It’s a tough ask (playing at the World Cup) in my opinion.”

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