Doubts raised over Burgess's rugby plan

RUGBY UNION

There's serious doubts within rugby union circles that league superstar Sam Burgess can adapt quickly enough to make England's team for next year's World Cup.

Souths forward Burgess announced he'll leave the Rabbitohs at the end of this year's NRL season to play for English rugby club Bath.

That gives him less than 11 months to make the transition to play in the 2015 Cup for the host nation.

Queensland Reds coach Richard Graham, a former assistant coach at Bath and the Wallabies, doubts that Burgess could master the nuances of rugby well enough to play in the global tournament.

"I think the transition will be a tough one for him," Graham said yesterday.

"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.

"He has to find a position and develop a skill set there," Graham said.

Reports from England suggested Bath and England coach Stuart Lancaster want to develop Burgess into an inside centre.

Graham hinted that the league front-rower may not have the polish and poise in his game to shine at No 12 immediately.

Former Great Britain league skipper Andy Farrell switched to that position in rugby when he crossed codes in 2005.

But Farrell had more time - two years - and more experience as a ball player to make his mark at inside centre for the 2007 Cup.

Graham said: "I was fortunate to coach Andy Farrell when he crossed from Wigan to Saracens at the time but he was a guy who played No 6 (five-eighth) a fair bit in rugby league and a really good thinker and very good skill set.

"He was renowned in English rugby league and internationally - at that time he played No 8 (lock), which also distributed the ball at that period.

"He came with a good understanding of the game and how to manipulate defences."

If Souths make the NRL finals then Burgess would likely miss the first six-to-eight rounds of the English premiership and only have four months to impress to make England's squad for the Six Nations - which will provide their main selection rehearsals for the Cup.

Sonny Bill Williams had a three-year apprenticeship, including two seasons in France, before he played at the 2011 World Cup but was largely a bench warmer for the All Blacks.

Another former NRL star, Brad Thorn, found his road even tougher.

He struggled in his debut season in 2001 after he left the Brisbane Broncos and turned down an All Blacks jersey that year because he didn't believe he deserved it.

But former Great Britain rugby league halfback Mike Ford, who will coach Burgess at Bath, was confident the big Yorkshireman has the qualities to make a successful transition.

"He's hard working, a huge presence both on and off the field and an ambitious young Englishman," Ford said. - AAP

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