Can Sam Burgess become The Best Rugby Player in the World?
Sam Burgess has the potential to become one of the best rugby players in the world despite his initial struggles after his switch from league to union, according to the former Great Britain rugby league coach Brian Noble.
This week Burgess admitted to being baffled by the lineout and finding the change of codes much harder than he expected since joining Bath from the South Sydney Rabbitohs last year. But Noble, who signed Burgess for the Bradford Bulls as a 16-year-old, believes that once he develops a greater understanding of the game he will prove his worth to Bath and England. “I have absolutely no doubts that he will get to grips with the difference in the game. People talk about Sonny Bill Williams’s talents, but I think Sam is better than him. He’s up there as one of the best generic rugby players on the planet. It will take him a while to get used to the technical differences, but Bath have made an clever signing and England will reap the benefits. He just needs to learn the game and get used to not having as much ball as he wants. Remember, he comes from a game where he is used to carrying the ball 40 times tackling 40 people, that’s his competitive nature. He can offload, he can pass, physically he has no problems and he’s a clever boy too. Bath have to find the right spot for him but I have absolutely no doubt he will be a huge success.”
Noble, speaking at Wembley Stadium after the draw for the first round of rugby league’s Challenge Cup, said that Bath had to do their bit by being patient. “Sam is very confident but he knows there needs to be a learning process. For Bath feeding him is going to be important. And people forget that Sam didn’t get to be the best rugby league player on the planet without going through certain hoops.”
Meanwhile, Martin Offiah, who moved the other way, from union to league, also believes that Burgess has the attributes to succeed. “When you move from either code, it takes time,” he said. “Union is a complex game. There is a lot to learn. When Jason Robinson went from league to union some reckoned he couldn’t make it because he wouldn’t pick up the game. Andy Farrell had problems when he came over but he kicked on and played for England. Even Henry Paul, who wasn’t one of the greatest successes when he switched code, still ended up playing for England.”
But Offiah believes that Bath can help speed up Burgess’s transition by sticking him permanently at centre rather than in the back row, which he believes is a far harder position to learn. “When Robinson switched codes he played both full-back and wing, and Farrell also tried different positions, but as a rule when you play outside it is easier for your natural talent to speak for you. The closer you are to the scrum the more you need a complete handle on the game and its complexities.”