Why Sam Burgess Should Not Be Included in England's Six Nations Squad
There was great fuss and fanfare at the arrival of Sam Burgess to rugby union.
After a glittering career in league with the South Sydney Rabbitohs, the lad from Dewsbury decided to leave his brothers Down Under and try his hand at 15-a-side.
No sooner was the news out than Burgess was being heralded by many as the answer to England’s midfield dilemma; the man who would make the difference in the 2015 World Cup and who would take the sport by storm.
So far, those hopes don't look like being fulfilled quite as quickly as English fans would like.
His cheekbone injury, sustained in the NRL Grand Final per the Guardian, delayed Burgess’ start after joining Bath, and so far, he has only made two full starts for the first team.
The jury is very much out on how effective Burgess will be as a rugby union player, with too many questions unanswered at this embryonic stage of his career for England to even contemplate picking him.
Here is a breakdown of why "Slammin’ Sam" simply is not ready for the Six Nations.
1. One League Start
Burgess’ only start in the Premiership came last weekend against Leicester Tigers.
In a game strangled by the Tigers forwards, on a marshy pitch with fog swirling around the place, it was never going to provide the former Bradford Bulls man with a chance to showcase his attributes to any great extent.
Instead, he had a try ruled out after the pass that put him through was deemed forwards and otherwise made a steady, unspectacular job of the things he was asked to do.
While he doesn't look clueless, in no way was it suddenly clear that he is ready for international rugby.
2. There Are Players in Form Who Deserve a Chance
Stuart Lancaster still has injury to Manu Tuilagi denying him his most potent midfield option, but there are other players who have built a far greater case than Burgess to occupy the centre positions—if that’s where Burgess' future does indeed lie.
Kyle Eastmond, made the fall guy during the third Test of England’s tour to New Zealand, per the Northern Echo, handled himself well in the autumn games against New Zealand and South Africa and has been playing superbly for Bath all season.
Luther Burrell must also be banging down the door for a place back in the side, either at No. 12 or No. 13, on the back of his form for Northampton.
Brad Barritt of Saracens is regarded by the England brain trust as their defensive captain and had a good autumn campaign after battling back from injury. If fit, you get the sense they would find it hard to leave the leader of their defence out.
Then there is Owen Farrell. Will he be viewed as either a No. 12 or still a No. 10? Bath’s George Ford deposed him during the autumn, and against Samoa, he was moved to inside centre before being benched against Australia.
All these men are ahead of Burgess in the England midfield. Throw in Billy Twelvetrees and the ever-improving Henry Slade at Exeter, and there is a case for ranking the code-crosser no higher than eighth in the pecking order.
Lancaster might not see it like that, of course. The fact that Burgess, in his two starts—the other was in Europe against Montpellier—has not looked like a fish out of water perhaps illustrates that he will learn the rest quickly and a few weeks spent in camp with England will accelerate that process.
But the Six Nations is no place for tuition. England have come up short too often in recent championships to risk sacrificing another title on the altar of experimentation.
3. Back Row Not an Option Either
Burgess was given a couple of run-outs on the blindside flank in Bath’s A-League side and even scored a try.
Indeed, Bath coach Mike Ford hinted before Burgess joined that he saw back row as a better place for him to play.
The player himself, however, has openly stated he finds it a harder place to learn the game than inside centre, and has no clue what is going on at the lineout, per The Telegraph.
This alone precludes him from having any shot at a place in the squad as a back-rower.
4. No Six Nations Does Not Mean No World Cup
The 2015 World Cup has been the tournament every Burgess supporter has been hoping he will be ready for. Just because he isn’t ready for the Six Nations should not automatically rule him out of contention for the autumn showpiece.
Indeed, while Eastmond—and possibly Bath colleague Jonathan Joseph—is on Six Nations duty, Burgess will have one of the Bath midfield slots to himself, and can spend a good few weeks getting his head around the game’s nuances such as the tackle technique, the breakdown and his lines of running.
When those parts of his game start to become second nature to him, it is then that his size and offloading skills will become major weapons, and England’s warm-up squad this summer would then be a more realistic target.