Sam Burgess: England centre to stay at Bath, says Mike Ford

Sam Burgess
Sam Burgess played in three of England's World Cup matches and started the defeat against Wales

England centre Sam Burgess will stay at Bath and continue in rugby union, according to his coach Mike Ford.

The 26-year-old has been given time off to consider his future and his representatives have been in talks with his former club South Sydney Rabbitohs about a return to rugby league.

Burgess was controversially picked for England's dismal World Cup campaign.

"This is the time that he becomes a better rugby union player," Ford told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

Ford said Burgess had come back to training after the World Cup but "didn't feel quite right" and gave the player some time off.

But he expects Burgess to return to the Recreation Ground on 2 November.

Burgess switched codes last year and signed a three-year contract with Bath, with the aim of playing in a home World Cup.

Having made his England debut in August, he was selected for the tournament, at which the hosts failed to progress from the group stage.

Stuart Lancaster picked him in midfield ahead of established international centre Luther Burrell despite Burgess playing as flanker for Bath.

Burgess impressed as a replacement in England's opening win over Fiji, started in the defeat by Wales in the second pool game before being replaced with 11 minutes left, came off the bench for the last 15 minutes of the subsequent loss to Australia and was then dropped from the match-day 23 for the final game against Uruguay.

Speculation in Australia has linked Burgess with a return to the NRL, with confirmation last week that brothers George and Tom had signed three-year contract extensions at the Rabbitohs and Luke at Manly Warringah Sea Eagles.

The NRL would not count any transfer fee paid for Burgess under their salary cap regulations.

In his final game for the Rabbitohs in 2014, Burgess played on with a broken cheekbone to help them win the NRL Grand Final, becoming the first non-Australian to win the Clive Churchill medal as man of the match.

Film star Russell Crowe, the Rabbitohs' owner, said after that game that "sparkly-eyed man" Burgess had "carved his name deep into the history of rugby league".

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Burgess injures cheekbone in Grand Final

Ford said that the former Bradford Bulls forward will honour his Bath contract, which runs until June 2017, and wants to play for England in next year's Six Nations Championship.

He added: "I've spoken to Sam many times and we've spoken about coming back to Bath, rolling his sleeves up and playing [at number] six for us.

"Everything we have spoken about has been about his future and playing well for Bath and potentially getting him to play for England in the Six Nations - or, if not, at the end of the season on tour to Australia."

Former England dual code international turned rugby league commentator Ray French added: "I think poor Sam has been made a bit of a scapegoat by various sections of the media.

"I think it may be getting him down. The poor lad has been blamed out of all proportion. It's almost as if he cost England the right to be playing in the final this weekend."

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'Rabbitohs move well advanced'

Brad Walter, Sydney Morning Herald rugby league reporter, speaking to BBC Radio 5 live: "Moves are well advanced for a return to the Rabbitohs. The only obstacle standing in the way now is Mike Ford, who wants him to remain in rugby union and is reluctant to release him but the expectation is that will be resolved within days.

"South Sydney and NRL have paved the way for the Rabbitohs to pay a transfer fee to Bath that would not go into their salary cap.

"He is a hero at the Rabbitohs. Winning the title in 2014 was a fairytale story. His brothers George and Thomas have re-signed with the club until the end of 2018, his fiancée is Australian, his entire family live in Sydney.

"South Sydney fans and NRL fans feel he was not given a fair go in rugby union. They feel he was on a hiding to nothing and made a scapegoat of England's failure at the World Cup."

A Rabbitohs spokesman said: "It is a long-term policy of our club that we don't comment on recruitment. Sam is contracted to Bath Rugby."

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