Speculations continues to mount an offcial signing announcement is just days away.
Stuart Lancaster has played down talk of Sam Burgess being fast-tracked into the England squad should the rugby league star change codes later this year.
Premiership side Bath, who in Kyle Eastmond have a cross-code convert in their ranks, have reportedly been linked with bringing Burgess ‘home’ from NRL side South Sydney Rabbitohs, in a move to be part-funded by the Rugby Football Union ahead of the 2015 World Cup in England.
But a cautious Lancaster, speaking ahead of England’s Calcutta Cup Six Nations clash with Scotland in Edinburgh this weekend, insisted there would be no special treatment for Burgess.
“Given the competitiveness of the squad we’ve got at the moment, any new player coming in would have to earn the right to play – as everyone else has done,” he said.
“They do that by playing high-quality, consistent, top-level Premiership rugby,” the England coach added.
“Let’s talk about Kyle Eastmond. He was going to have to play well in the Premiership in order to get into the England team.
“That is the way it should be done.”
Lancaster denied any England involvement in trying to sign up Burgess, whose stamina and handling skill, which have seen him compared to New Zealand’s Sonny Bill Williams and mean the league forward could be suited to inside centre in the 15-man game.
And Lancaster, who met with Burgess while on a fact-finding missing to Australia in August, seemed to indicate that next year would be too short a time for him to become a Test standard union player.
“It would be a challenge, big time, for a player to change codes and play in the 2011 World Cup because of the nature of learning the sport and everything else that goes with it,” he said.
“But there’s a bigger picture about developing a team that goes way beyond 2015 as well.”
Lancaster, recalling his meeting with Burgess, added: “We didn’t discuss rugby union. The interest, if there is one, has to come from Sam.
“He has to want to come to rugby union and there is also the issue that he is under contract.
“I was impressed with him. I was impressed with his character and his leadership. He is a grounded, down to earth northerner as well, which helps!,” said Lancaster, who himself grew up in the English rugby league stronghold of Cumbria.
“It was a brief meeting, a conversation alongside meeting other players. Clearly he is a world-class rugby league player.”