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Rugby League icon Sam Burgess explains the issues with English Rugby

BY Philip Bendon  ·  Monday Sep 18, 2023

In the pantheons of all-time great Rugby League players, England’s Sam Burgess sits amongst the top table to ever play the thirteen-player code.

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A bruising utility forward in his playing days, the 34-year-old Burgess was lauded for his no-nonsense approach to the sport.

Winning Australia’s NRL competition in 2014, playing alongside his brothers Tom and George, Sam would win the Clive Churchill medal as the best player in the final. Further highlighting his toughness, Burgess played the match with a broken cheekbone which he suffered in the opening tackle of the match.

Having already announced his intention to try his hand at Rugby Union ahead of the Grand Final winning season, the hype around his return to England and a first bash at Union was astronomical.

Plying his trade for English Premiership side Bath Rugby, there was some dispute as to what his best position would be in the XV player game.

Ultimately, Burgess would fluctuate between the backrow and centre positions, with his club opting for the forwards whilst his international coaches played him in the backline.

Despite playing less than a season of Rugby Union, Burgess was included as one of four centres in Stuart Lancaster’s World Cup squad.

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From here, Burgess’s Union dream would turn into a nightmare as England faltered to a pool exit in their home World Cup.

This failure would usher in a new era for English Rugby as Lancaster and his assistants Andy Farrell, Graham Rowntree, and Mike Catt would be dismissed in favour of Eddie Jones.

Now eight years on, Burgess has highlighted the issues he felt hampered the 2015 England Rugby World Cup squad.

Speaking on the High-Performance Podcast, the newly unveiled Warrington head coach touched on subjects such as coaching and the playing squad.

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Suggesting that there had been factions within the squad, Burgess delved into the issues facing the squad and said the issues were not in the coaching box.

“You look at that England Rugby Union squad and the coaching staff especially.

“Stuart Lancaster, after the World Cup, he got sacked or whatever he stood down. He’s gone on to Leinster and been the Leinster head coach for six years.

“The last four years, they have been the most dominant team in the whole of Europe. Okay, so it’s not like he wasn’t a great coach.

“Andy Farrell, who was the assistant coach, he’s now head coach of Ireland. They are currently number one in the world.

“Graham Rowntree, he’s at Munster, and they’ve improved outside in the last four years since he’s been there.

“Mike Catt is off being a (great) coach, and that was our coaching staff. They’re accomplished coaches. They’ve gone into the next phase of their careers and gone on to be ultra-successful.” Burgess concluded.

Shifting his focus, Burgess said, “So you had accomplished people in leadership roles, but I just don’t think the players are willing to pay the price to be successful.”

Highlighting that he is now removed from the environment, Burgess continued, “I can sit here and say that now and if players from that environment had the courage and honesty to come out and say it, then I think you’d hear it from a few more people.”

“I think a lot of them don’t like to be honest with it because it was a failed year, and it was easy for them to point a finger at a few different things, you know, throughout the year.

“You know I have from that campaign not one bit of regret for what I gave to my country, to the team. Of course, I made mistakes as I was new to the game.

“Someone sent me a funny stat the other day of when (I was) playing for England Rugby Union, we were never behind on the scoreboard whilst I was on the field.

“Never once, except I was on the bench against Australia at Twickenham, and they brought me on with fifteen minutes to go, and we were losing. That was the only time I was ever behind on the scoreboard.”

Concluding the point as to what he felt went wrong, Burgess put it down to this point.

“Ultimately, I put it down to this question: would you rather be my friend and lose or would you rather just not be happy with me and win?”

Suggesting that his former teammates may not have agreed with his approach, he continued, “You know, but by the time we get to that second option, they’re thinking, geez, this guy is sometimes a bit hard or whatever.

“But you’re a winner, and you probably understand, or hopefully, you might understand the route that got us there.

“And it’s actually because I cared about people, and I wanted them to reach their potential, so it actually comes from a really caring place, you know.

“I always had a fair way of delivering things to people, and I was never rude or aggressive. I was just honest.

“I think leadership or what I believe about leadership, the greatest quality you can have as a leader is being authentic, and I just always stuck by that.

“If I was authentic and I could stand by everything I said, then I was doing a good job and don’t get me wrong, I got it wrong at times.

“But I was man enough to say, listen, yeah, I am totally wrong. I got that wrong, I’ll wear that, and I get better, and I’ll learn from that.

“You know, in some of those harder conversations, as long as I was authentic and I was telling the truth, then I could stand by anything I said,” Burgess concluded.

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