Stuart Lancaster revealed he would not have fast-tracked Sam Burgess into England’s World Cup squad if he had known he would return to rugby league within a few weeks of the hosts being knocked out of the tournament.
“Clearly, hindsight is a wonderful thing,” said Lancaster.
“If I’d known he was going to go back to rugby league then my decisions would have been different, but we didn’t know that at the time. It’s a shame for everyone. I don’t think there was any winner in the end.
Sam Burgess has selfishly walked away from rugby union and it is not Stuart Lancaster’s fault https://t.co/J1HGCUW0I6— Telegraph Rugby (@TelegraphRugby) November 7, 2015
“Sam was a great and positive influence on the group. He worked hard and earned the right, in our minds, to be in the squad. I think there’s a perception that I somehow went on a crusade to try and recruit him from rugby league. What happened was I went to Australia and watched a game, popping in to see various coaches along the way.
“One of those was Michael Maguire [head coach at South Sydney Rabbitohs] and Sam pulled me on the way out and said: ‘Do you fancy a coffee?’ We had a chat and he said: ‘I want to have a think about playing rugby union, how do I go about doing it?’
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Speaking about the disastrous 2015 campaign, Lancaster added: “A lot of things have happened since the World Cup, but it is still fresh in my mind,” he said. “You think about it most days.”
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1. Sam Burgess
On 10 August, Burgess was named in the England Elite Squad to make his International début against France at Twickenham on 15 August, in a warm-up match for the Rugby World Cup. He started the game which England won 19-14.
Following his appearance where he was sin-binned, World Cup winning English scrum-half Matt Dawson commented: “You can’t take him to the World Cup for me. He played 80 mins and credit for that. But the way the game went in the second half there was nothing for him to do. The great thing about Burgess is he doesn’t make mistakes with ball in hand. But unfortunately, if you’re going to be really picky, positionally he wasn’t great. He played like a six rather than a 12. There are things that are instinctively he doesn’t know what to do.”
Dawson’s comments came before Lancaster named Burgess as one of four centres to represent England in the World Cup. His inclusion and performances at the World Cup were widely scrutinized, and seen by some pundits as partly to blame for England’s “humiliating” early pool stage exit from the tournament—the worst result for a sole host nation in the tournament’s history.
On 5 November, Burgess made the decision to leave rugby union, opting to return to South Sydney Rabbitohs, signing a three-year contract, approximately worth $1.5m AUD per season.