D’Arcy on Burgess: "Simply not possible for him to be ready"
WHEN star Rabbitohs forward Sam Burgess announced he was leaving the NRL to play rugby for Bath, there was no doubt the plan was to fast-track him into the England side for the World Cup.
When asked at the time whether Burgess was in his plans for the tournament, and if so what role might he play, England coach Stuart Lancaster said: "It is easier to learn union in the backs. The closest comparison I can make to Sam is with Sonny Bill Williams".
The New Zealander had of course already won a World Cup with the All Blacks in 2011 before returning to the NRL and adding a premiership ring to his collection with the Roosters in 2013.
While no one batted an eyelid when Williams was named in the All Blacks squad for this year's tournament, plenty of criticism was directed Lancaster's way when he included Burgess in the England line-up.
Lancaster wasn't interested in the opinions of the crictics, saying: "I understand the size of this decision, but I understand the size of every decision when you're in a World Cup year. "He (Burgess) has done great. He's earned the right. He's picked on merit from what we've seen in the camp."
It could hardly have been from what the coach had seen on the paddock, given Burgess had played just 70 minutes of Test rugby prior to his selection.
That amount has now doubled following an 18-minute cameo off the bench in England's opening game against Fiji, and 70 minutes in the 28-25 loss to Wales that put the hosts on the verge of elimination.
And it was the lack of understanding of the inside centre role that Burgess displayed in that game that gave the critics more ammunition, some laying the blame for the defeat squarely at his feet.
Former champion Ireland and British Lions No.12 George D'Arcy, writing in the Irish Times, didn't hold back in his assessment of the shortcomings Burgess needed to overcome.
"I started playing centre in 2004," D'Arcy wrote. "It took until the 2007 World Cup before I felt properly attuned to the nuances of the position, and felt comfortable playing Test matches in the No 12 jersey. Sam Burgess only arrived at a Bath training session last October. It's simply not possible for him to be ready.
"And now we have proof. Burgess lacks the sense of timing, in attack and defence, required to be effective at international level. His naivety embarrassed those around him and severely damaged England's chances of reaching the quarter-finals."
Lancaster has always talked about the importance of showing loyalty to his players, but with a critical match coming up against the Wallabies on Sunday morning, the 2014 Clive Churchill medallist is likely to find himself back on the bench.
After all, England cannot afford to put a single foot wrong if it wants to stay in the tournament beyond the pool games.
- with INM