Sam Burgess could play Test rugby union as a back-row forward as early as this summer, according to Bath’s director of rugby Mike Ford. The cross-code recruit from South Sydney will be named in England’s Rugby World Cup training squad on Wednesday and Ford believes he is already an international contender in his club position of blindside flanker.
The England management have previously indicated they see Burgess as a centre and the removal of Manu Tuilagi from the midfield equation has reduced their stock of powerful, dynamic ball-carriers. Burgess, though, has been switched to the pack by Bath and, in Ford’s view, is learning rapidly. “Do I think he could play international rugby at No6 now? Yes I do,” said Ford. “You have to look at his work rate. What he does in terms of tackles and hitting rucks is pretty good. In fact it’s very good.”
Ford reckons the 26-year-old Burgess, who has already represented England Saxons as a centre this year, will feature for England in one of their August warm-up Tests against France and also boost his World Cup prospects in training. “Stuart [Lancaster] wants to have a good look at him every day, and potentially play him in a warm-up game and see how he goes. Because he’s played at six in the last few games his versatility has got England thinking he can potentially cover two positions and that adds to his bow, doesn’t it?
“He’s still learning but I thought his try at the weekend against Gloucester was the real Sam Burgess. The way he hit the line, fended and stepped the full-back … that’s what I envisaged when I first signed him. His work rate was phenomenal. You can talk about what he struggles with such as lineouts or, maybe, mauls. But you’ve also got to look at what he can do. Working with him every day Stuart and the coaches are going to see a true leader.”
Ford, who was England’s defence coach at the 2011 World Cup, has also advised Lancaster to be bold and not pick players purely on reputation as he looks to identify his final 31-man squad. “I came on board in 2006 and we were still picking players who played well in 2003,” said Ford, who is set to start Burgess at flanker against Leicester in Saturday’s Aviva Premiership semi-final at the Recreation Ground. “We were saying: ‘We can’t drop him, he’s won the World Cup.’ I did it when I was England coach – sometimes you pick on reputation and it’s a dangerous thing to do. You’ve got to pick the guys in form and the guys who are performing now.”