Image:Rugby Union – England Training – Pennyhill Park, Bagshot, Surrey – 29/9/15England’s Sam Burgess during trainingAction Images via Reuters / Henry BrowneLivepic
LONDON (Reuters) – Sam Burgess wants to stay in rugby union and extend his contract at Bath with an eye on playing in the back row at the next World Cup rather than as a centre, the role handed to him by coach Stuart Lancaster during England’s disastrous campaign.
Burgess’s inclusion in Lancaster’s squad for the tournament at the expense of Six Nations regular Luther Burrell raised eyebrows because the former rugby league player had featured in only one international up to that point.
The former South Sydney Rabbitohs player, who converted to union a year ago, was criticised for his performances in England’s defeat by Wales and the loss to Australia that resulted in the hosts’ early World Cup exit.
Burgess was reported this week to be heading back to rugby league to play for Leeds Rhinos, with speculation intensifying to the point where bookmakers stopped taking bets on his return on Wednesday.
But Bath head coach Mike Ford has said Burgess intends to extend his contract to play union in the English Premiership and wants to play in the next World Cup in Japan in 2019 as a flanker.
“The last conversation I had with him, he was going to extend his contract with us and he wanted to go for the next World Cup,” Ford was quoted as saying by the Times on Thursday.
“He is going to play for us for the next few years. He loves rugby union, he is settled in Bath and he knows he is a six,” Ford added.
“Proving he is an international back-rower is the big challenge now for Sam. He’s always been a No. 6 for us, no question. We’ve talked about next time the England squad gets selected, his goal’s got to be to be there as a six.”
Burgess, 26, made the blindside flanker role his own for Bath in the final months of last season, but Lancaster said in July that he would play him as a centre because he was not “effective in the lineout”.
Ford intends to continue giving Burgess the chance to develop as a flanker at Bath and backed him to force the England management to select him as a forward for next year’s Six Nations.
“We have an unbelievable run of fixtures coming up, we have Toulon, Leinster, Leicester, Northampton and Wasps twice,” Ford said.
“If he can play six in those games, against the best in Europe, I am sure England will have a look at him in that role. I am sure he’ll break into the international squad as a six,” Ford added.
(Reporting by Shravanth Vijayakumar in Bengaluru, editing by Ed Osmond)
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