Sam Burgess leaves Bath: A 'sorry tale of confusion' at an end

Sam Burgess
Sam Burgess decided to leave Bath just one year into a three-year deal

"It brings to an end a rather sorry tale of confusion... we will never know now how good Sam Burgess could have been."

BBC Radio 5 live rugby commentator Alastair Eykyn, who broke the news about Burgess's departure from Bath, says the player had "all the tools to be a union great".

After Burgess decided to leave the Premiership side for a return to former club South Sydney Rabbitohs in the Australian National Rugby League, current and former stars of both codes had their say.

The 26-year-old exits rugby union after playing just 26 games in the sport, having been a controversial selection in England's squad for the World Cup, which ended in disappointment as they went out in the group stage.

A BBC Radio 5 live special rounded up the reaction - listen to it here.

A missed opportunity

St Helens player Jon Wilkin, who played against Burgess in Super League and with him at international level, said family was key to his decision.

"I am thrilled we have a fantastic athlete back in our game," Wilkin said.

"Sam is a very passionate family man. His family is at the core of everything he does. Being in England away from his brother and mother has been a big stretch for him. Let's not underestimate that.

"You can have all the money in the world, the profile, but unless you are comfortable at home, those things won't make you happy.

Jon Wilkin and Sam Burgess
Burgess began his career at Bradford Bulls in 2006

"There was a lot of pressure on [England rugby union head coach] Stuart Lancaster to pick him. I was one of those guys who thought he was not ready. I was surprised to see him get selected. We saw him get heavily scrutinised for his performance in the Wales game which was unfair.

"I have no doubt that England are lacking in characters to lead the team. Sam led by example and his actions helped others around him.

"In the 2013 Rugby League World Cup semi-final, Burgess came up against Sonny Bill Williams and destroyed him. He ran over the top of him. If England could have got that out of him, in time he would have been an outstanding rugby union player."

'There will be regrets - for other people'

England team-mate and Wasps captain James Haskell said Burgess's time in union was not a failure.

"He is going back to a sport he loves," Haskell told BBC Radio 5 live. "He is a real character of the game, he does everything he can to get the best out of the boys around him. He lets criticism wash over him and proved time and again what sort of player he is. Rugby union is losing a real star in the making.

Sam Burgess
Sam Burgess (right) made England's World Cup squad within weeks of winning his first cap in August

"He set himself a challenge and did that. To get a cap for England in such a short period of time is amazing. Once you achieve challenges, you want to move on.

"There will be regrets for other people. I am sorry to see a mate go. The guy gave it his best shot at rugby union."

'The lad is infectious'

Burgess was given his rugby league debut by now England coach Steve McNamara in 2006, before making a move down under four years later.

The England rugby league side are currently 1-0 up in their Test series against New Zealand, so could Burgess make a shock return for the next two matches?

Steve McNamara and Sam Burgess
Sam Burgess watched England's victory over France last month alongside national team coach Steve McNamara

"He was never a consideration for the series," McNamara told TalkSport. "He will be a great addition moving forward but we are in a great position ourselves at the moment.

"The lad is infectious, he makes others around him play better and make them believe they are better than they are. For whatever reason in the World Cup, he took criticism, but he will have made a lot of players better.

"I am extremely proud of him. To never playing a game of union, to playing for England in a World Cup. The fact he has achieved that is of great credit."

'Questioning his aptitude for union'

With a broken cheekbone suffered early in the match, Burgess helped the Rabbitohs win the NRL title in October 2014 and was named man of the match.

Just 10 months later, he was named in the England squad for rugby union's World Cup, having played 21 games for club side Bath.

Russell Crowe and Sam Burgess
Hollywood actor Russell Crowe, owner of the South Sydney Rabbitohs, played an instrumental role in taking Burgess from Bradford to Sydney in 2010

BBC Radio 5 live's Alastair Eykyn said the player was "not ready" and that Burgess has been "questioning his own aptitude for rugby union".

"The fans will be hugely disappointed, we have seen glimpses of what he could have done," he added.

"What advice was he being given? Were they saying he would be at the pinnacle of the sport in a year's time? Or was he saying that to himself? Did he have a belief that he would master it in that short space of time? If he did, the guy is deluded.

"He had all the tools to be a rugby union great. Even the great Sonny Bill Williams was used as an impact player for New Zealand. He spent a huge amount of time learning the game before being let loose by the All Blacks when he was ready. Sam Burgess was not ready."

Burgess a 'scapegoat'

The hashtag #BlameBurgess was widely used on Twitter as a sarcastic reaction to the criticism Burgess received during the World Cup.

He came on as a replacement in the opening win against Fiji, started in the defeat against Wales, returned to the bench in the Australia loss, before being dropped for the Uruguay victory.

Sam Burgess

Former Sale Sharks and England winger Mark Cueto played over 350 games for club and country feels Burgess was a "scapegoat" after England went out of the World Cup at the group stages.

"I am massively surprised. It is a real shame, but it does not surprise me," he told BBC Radio 5 live. "He came over to rugby union and had nothing but bad press. Part of me is gutted he is going back but I can understand it.

"He wasn't given the time, it is not a case of running away. Financially, he will better off. He is young man who has to look after himself. It is a short career."

'He did not cut the mustard'

BBC Radio 5 live's rugby correspondent Ian Robertson feels Burgess was not up to the job.

"Burgess became a massive distraction for the whole of the three months in the lead up to and then the World Cup. It went on and on. He was the story all the time.

"The sadness is that he was not up to it. He did not cut the mustard at centre. That is not his fault. He only played in the position for two months at Bath.

"How was he expected to be the finished article for a World Cup? It was very unfair to ask him to be the star of the World Cup."

'You're allowed to change your mind'

Former Bath and England centre Jeremy Guscott feels Burgess did his best.

"I thought he might have given it more of a go," said Guscott. "I can't believe anyone wanted him to fail.

"No-one who knows anything about rugby union is blaming him for anything he did on a rugby field. He was a brilliant rugby league player and took the opportunity to fulfil a dream. I don't see he played badly at all.

"He may have felt 'I thought I could do it, now I believe I can't'. Everyone in the world is allowed to change their mind."

Social media reaction

All Black Sonny Bill Williams, who played against Burgess in the NRL for Sydney Roosters, called it a "sad day".

Sonny Bill Williams

Carl Fearns admitted that Bath adding Sam Burgess to their back row contributed to him leaving the club to play for French team Lyon. He tweeted this on Thursday.

Carl Fearns

England legend Jonny Wilkinson paid his own tribute to Burgess.

Jonny Wilkinson

Former England centre Will Greenwood, who won the World Cup in 2003 alongside Wilkinson, feels Burgess has not been treated fairly.

Will Greenwood

Wakefield Trinity Wildcats chairman Michael Carter made a cheeky bid to sign Burgess, despite a deal already being agreed with South Sydney.

Michael Carter

Former Harlequins player and ex-England international Ugo Monye said on Twitter: "For everyone involved this situation doesn't look great..." with the following picture retweeted almost 200 times.

Sam Burgess advert

And Leeds Rhinos fans indulged themselves in a little wishful thinking...

Sam Burgess - Leeds Rhinos

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