Dave Craven: Scapegoat Burgess should play the game he loves most

Is Sam Burgess heading back to rugby league?
Is Sam Burgess heading back to rugby league?
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SHOULD I stay or should I go? It must have been a genuine dilemma for Sam Burgess.

I use the past tense as I’m sure he already knows his decision. It is now just whether it can be acted on and a return to rugby league be facilitated.

If that is the case, and his union odyssey is over within 12 months, there will be a tinge of sadness in some quarters.

I still believe he could be a success in the 15-man code yet fully understand why he may not want anything to do with it now.

Let us look at recent events. Burgess, essentially, has been made a scapegoat for England’s spectacular World Cup failure without ever truly failing in his own right.

Yes, he probably should not have been parachuted into that squad so soon after joining Bath from the sanctuary of his hero status at South Sydney and especially as a centre when his already limited club football came at flanker.

But that was head coach Stuart Lancaster’s decision. Once in there, did Burgess really under-perform so badly?

If Lancaster had kept him on in that ill-fated, seminal pool game against the Welsh, England would surely have stayed in front.

But, no, instead, with revered Welsh centre Jamie Roberts safely tucked away in his back pocket, Burgess was hauled off due to one of those futile substitutions which is the mainstay of too many coaching playbooks – the preordained decision to replace someone in the final quarter regardless of how that player is performing.

Lancaster left Brad Barritt on, within moments England’s midfield collapsed, and Wales had the solitary try they almost knew would be enough.

The most telling image of it all, though, was the photo taken a week ago of Burgess sat alongside Steve McNamara during England rugby league’s fixture with France at Leigh.

Burgess is media savvy. He spent five years amid the constant glare of its spotlight in Sydney (yes, union plays second, arguably third, fiddle there) so knows only too well what people would make of that while his club side Bath were playing almost 125 miles away in Coventry.

He was watching brother Tom play but did not need to plonk himself alongside the England RL coach – a man so influential in his formative years in professional sport – just a matter of weeks after, essentially, being hung out to dry by the nation’s rugby union manager.

Burgess went to union for the chance to perform on big international stages but, whether Lancaster survives or not and through no fault of Burgess, there is more chance of Sam Fox getting a game in England’s midfield than him in the Six Nations.

Similarly, and as much as England’s back-row was tethered, there is no chance of him mastering the dark arts of that position at that level in the two years remaining of his Bath contract. By that virtue, if I was him, I would try and get back to Souths as soon as possible.

The sport of rugby league will not like it in some respects, given one of their own will forever be deemed a failure by the rival code.

However, Burgess has carried a sport’s expectations on his broad shoulders already for far too long: Union’s.

It will go against his morals no doubt, turning his back on a signed contract, but no one would begrudge him this one.

Life as a professional sportsman is far too short. Do what you love most. Let the football decide.

Liam Sutcliffe.

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