South Sydney Rabbitohs star lured to rugby union ahead of 2015 World Cup
English superstar Sam Burgess is to quit the South Sydney Rabbitohs and switch codes to join rugby union side Bath in an ambitious bid to play in next year’s World Cup.
The Rabbitohs said Monday the bullocking forward, who will leave at the end of the season, had been released from the final two years of his contract amid reports the English Premiership team paid a transfer fee of more than Aus$900,000 ($815,000).
The 25-year-old Great Britain league international is said to be targeting England’s inside-centre position at the 2015 World Cup on home soil.
“Burgess… is set to head to England to play rugby union for Bath Rugby at the end of the year to fulfill a long-held ambition to become a dual international, with the opportunity to play in the 2015 Rugby World Cup and (achieve) English club rugby success,” a Rabbitohs statement said.
— Bath Rugby (@bathrugby) February 17, 2014
The club admitted to recently receiving a request for release from Burgess, but refused to reveal the size of the agreed fee.
A deal was also struck for the Sydney outfit to have first and last offer on Burgess’s services should he return to rugby league in the future.
The Yorkshireman, who has been a revelation since being lured to the National Rugby League (NRL) by Rabbitohs co-owner, Hollywood star Russell Crowe, took to Twitter to air his relief.
“Been a tough few weeks having to stay quiet,” he wrote after the story leaked early in English and Australian media.
“An opportunity presented itself to head back home to England and to pursue a chance to represent my country in two different sports,” Burgess said in an earlier statement.
“With 2015 being a Rugby World Cup, it was an opportunity I had to pursue and I thank the Rabbitohs for allowing me to make this move and start the next chapter in my sporting career,” he said.
The 6ft 5in (1m 96cms), 18 stone (114 kgs) forward with strong handling skills has often been compared to repeat code-switcher Sonny Bill Williams, who helped the All Blacks win the 2011 World Cup in union before returning to league to represent the Kiwis in 2013.
Bath described Burgess as “world class”, with head coach Mike Ford lauding him as an “exceptionally talented athlete.
“He’s hard-working, a huge presence both on and off the field, and an ambitious young Englishman, all of which are qualities that we are building our squad around.
“I’ve no doubt Sam will fit in seamlessly here at Bath and we’re looking forward to having him join us and start making the transition.”
However, not everyone agreed, with barely 11 months for Burgess to shape up for World Cup selection.
Queensland Reds coach Richard Graham, a former assistant coach at Bath and the Wallabies, voiced doubts he could master union in time to seal a place in England’s squad.
“I think the transition will be a tough one for him,” Graham said. “His aspirations of going to the World Cup are going to be challenging, to say the least.
“There’s no doubt he’s a big physical guy, a very good athlete and a real professional in the way he goes about his training so he’ll give himself a chance. But I think probably the timing will be against him.”
Former Great Britain skipper Andy Farrell, now an England union coach, also switched to inside centre when he crossed codes in 2005, but he had two years before the 2007 World Cup.
Sonny Bill Williams enjoyed a three-year apprenticeship, including two seasons in France, before the 2011 World Cup.
Since joining the Rabbitohs from the Bradford Bulls in 2010, Burgess has been followed by elder sibling Luke and twin brothers George and Tom — the first set of four brothers to play for the same top-level Australian league side in more than a century.