Burgess may follow Sonny Bill - even into ring

BRAD WALTER
Last updated 09:15 18/02/2014
Sam Burgess
Getty Images
FOLLOWING SONNY: Sam Burgess' switch to rugby raises the prospect of a World Cup final clash with Sonny Bill Williams as well as a boxing career.

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Sam Burgess' man-of-the-match effort in the semi-final loss in November to the Sonny Bill Williams-led Kiwis was more than just the individual performance of the World Cup - it was the audition for his code-switch to play for England in the rugby union version of the tournament.

If everything goes to plan, England will meet New Zealand in the final of the 2015 Rugby World Cup, and as they watched the Rugby League International Federation player of the year dominate opponents, coaches Stuart Lancaster and Andy Farrell wondered how the hosts would stop him on his return to the 15-aside game next season.

The answer was to recruit the player who is so keen to match it with Williams that Fairfax Media has even been told the South Sydney star wants to fight him in the boxing ring.

Like Williams, Burgess is a devastating rugby league forward and as the Kiwi superstar has done, he will move to the centres in rugby union.

''He could be a great addition to England with his ball carrying and destructive defence,'' Wales dual code legend and BBC analyst Jonathan Davies said. ''But he would have to play No.12.''

The reason: to mark Williams in the final of the RWC, or semi-final if they finish second behind Australia or Wales in Pool A.

It will continue a rivalry that began when Burgess trampled Williams in the opening minutes of his NRL comeback match for Sydney Roosters last season.

Williams got the upper hand in the return encounter six months later as he lifted the Roosters to the minor premiership, and also came out on top in their epic World Cup semi-final duel at Wembley.

However, he was shaded by Burgess for man-of-the-match honours after the Dewsbury product made 187 metres from 19 runs, which included four tackle breaks, three offloads and a try assist as well as 41 tackles in one of the best games of all time.

With Williams returning similar statistics of 150 metres from 19 runs, which included five offloads and 36 tackles, the pair were the best players for their teams and Burgess clearly convinced Lancaster and Farrell he can match it with Williams.

''Burgess is a superstar in rugby league. He could have a bigger impact in the game of union than Williams,'' former England rugby union centre Jeremy Guscott told the BBC.

''What he's capable of producing on a rugby pitch is nothing short of spectacular.

''He uses his weight and power well and has the full range of handling skills,'' Guscott said. If he can adapt quickly enough he will challenge all the current England centres for a place in the line-up.''

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After revelations by Bath owner Bruce Craig that the RFU was the driving force behind Burgess's switch, there can be little doubt he will be fast-tracked into the England team at season end to prepare for the RWC.

The move was instigated by Farrell, the former Great Britain and Wigan captain who knows better than most what is required for the role England want Burgess to perform after playing centre himself in rugby union.

While Burgess' niggling tactics for the Rabbitohs have drawn criticism, many in England believe they are effective against Williams. Before the World Cup semi-final at Wembley, Great Britain's most capped player, Gary Schofield, declared Burgess was the only player capable of stopping New Zealand's most feared player.

''Burgess has the physical presence to rattle Williams and wrap him up,'' Schofield said.

''If he is kept out of the game as much as possible, England have a chance. If not, we'll come up short again.''

As it turned out, England lost 20-18 after Williams got the Kiwis into position for Shaun Johnson to score in the dying seconds, but Burgess did enough for Lancaster and Farrell to believe he was worth another chance in the RWC.

- Sydney Morning Herald

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