Sam Burgess interview: I just didn’t love rugby union as much as I love league

 
Ross McLean
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England v New Zealand - Four Nations
Sam Burgess is leading England during the Four Nations series (Source: Getty)

If absence makes the heart grow fonder then code-switching powerhouse and newly-anointed England rugby league skipper Sam Burgess has reason to be more love-struck then ever.

Burgess was back on the international stage on Saturday spearheading England’s Four Nations charge, little more than a year after his and his country’s ill-fated showing at the rugby union World Cup.

Much has changed since then and the 27-year-old is now fully reacquainted with Australian NRL side South Sydney Rabbitohs, having broken rank and turned his back on a new life in the 15-man version of the game.

With two years remaining on his Bath contract, his actions were viewed as an act of treachery in some quarters, drawing criticism and condemnation, not that Burgess bears any scars of regret.

“When people ask whether, given the chance, I would have done anything differently, my simple answer is no,” Burgess told City A.M. “I wasn’t always making the decisions about what I was doing. I was given tasks.

“At Bath, that was to play at flanker, a position I worked hard at and we managed to make a Premiership final, although we narrowly missed out against Saracens. Then I was asked to play inside centre for England. There were others up for selection at centre but I got down to the last four in the [World Cup] squad.

“It was a cracking experience and I really enjoyed the challenge of becoming the best I could be in those positions but overall I just didn’t love it as much as I love league.

“I wanted to go and play a sport that is really in my heart.”

It is not only Burgess that has enjoyed a renaissance following that harrowing World Cup. England have since hired their first ever overseas head coach and are currently in the midst of a 10-match winning streak.

England boss Eddie Jones has overseen the transformation and has stated that Yorkshireman Burgess could have evolved into a Test force had he had the “will” to remain in union.

The man for the job

Asked whether any part of him wished he was contributing to the England revolution under the Australian, Burgess said: “No, not really. I don’t regret any decision.

“I’m really happy for the team and what they’ve gone on to do. I know a lot of the players and I’m still friends with most guys in that team, so I’m really happy for them, especially Owen Farrell. I’m really proud of the way he’s stepped up and taken the No10 role. He’s certainly the man for the job.

“Eddie Jones seems to have done a great job there as coach and got everyone behind him. That’s what it takes. But in terms of the decision I made, I have no regrets.”

Despite bringing his flirtation with union to a close after only a year, Burgess is adamant that he would not dissuade others from either switching codes or trying their hand in the Premiership.

“That player will make his own decision,” said Burgess. “I can pass on my experiences and what I felt, but I asked other people and players before I decided but I made the decision. That’s how it is.

"I would tell them about my experience, what I enjoyed and what I didn’t, but then it’s up to them. If someone wants to challenge themselves and go and have a crack, then they will go and do it.

“I’d be happy if someone wanted to do that, it just wasn’t for me.”

England began their Four Nations quest with a narrow 17-16 reverse to New Zealand at Huddersfield’s John Smith’s Stadium at the weekend after scrum-half Shaun Johnson’s drop-goal consigned the hosts to defeat.

It was the sixth time England had lost to either New Zealand or fellow big-hitters Australia by eight points or less in the last four years, while next up is a tussle with tournament debutants Scotland on Saturday.

Defeat against New Zealand means England will have to topple world champions Australia in a clash at the London Stadium on Sunday 13 November to have any chance of reaching the Four Nations final.

“That’s the challenge now,” added Burgess. “We didn’t get the result we wanted at the weekend but we had some positive things within the performance.

“Moving forwards, it’s about learning from the mistakes we made and the opportunities we missed. To do anything in this tournament now we need to be squeaky clean.

“The result didn’t go our way against New Zealand but it was still an enjoyable performance to be a part of. There were some great efforts and some great games from some young players. More than anything, it was great to be back in an England shirt and to be out there with the team.”

England Rugby League return to London on Sunday November 13 (2.00pm) to take on World Cup holders Australia at London Stadium. This will be the first time these two sides have met on home soil since 2013. Tickets are still available from rugby-league.com/tickets