The former England international says he would be disappointed to see Slammin' Sam give up on his rugby union adventure.
Will he, won’t he? Should he, shouldn’t he? The future of Sam Burgess has been the subject of intense debate over recent weeks.
The 26-year-old is only a year into his rugby union adventure, but the cross-code convert may soon be beating a hasty retreat back from whence he came after becoming an unwelcome centre of attention.
England’s disastrous showing at the 2015 Rugby World Cup has made scapegoats of those involved, and Burgess finds himself at the centre of that herd.
His selection by Stuart Lancaster, with limited experience and no set position, raised concerns, with a man used to being the star of the show in rugby league circles finding himself thrust under an uncomfortable spotlight.
The general consensus is that he should have been eased into the fold at an elite level, with his game refined domestically at Bath before being unleashed on unsuspecting international opponents.
By dropping him in at the deep end, Lancaster made Burgess an easy target, for critics and opponents, with it painfully apparent to many observers outside of the England camp that a weak link had been formed.
The criticism which has dogged both coach and player is unfortunate, with their failings not through a lack of effort or desire to succeed, but it could be that the exit door has swung open for a man England hoped to see become their equivalent to New Zealand’s World Cup winner Sonny Bill Williams.
Burgess is well short of that level in union at present, but there are few to match him in league and it should come as no surprise to find that reports of a potential return to ranks where he is revered have grown in intensity – with Leeds Rhinos chief executive confirming his club’s interest on Sky Sports, while talk of a second spell under Russell Crowe’s wing in Australia has also been mooted by the likes of the Daily Mirror.
Few could blame Burgess if he does decide to cut short his stay in union, but Bath coach Mike Ford remains adamant that a contract which still has two years left to run will be honoured, and former England international Austin Healey is among those who feel ‘Slammin’ Sam’ should persevere in his current surroundings and prove his critics wrong.
Speaking as part of Ladbrokes Rugby’s Who’s Got The Balls campaign, Healey told HITC Sport during a phone interview: “It will be sad if he goes back and gives up so easily. I would be disappointed if he gave up. He’s had a difficult time, he’s had a lot of press. It’s an opportunity now, not a problem, it’s a big opportunity for him to go out there, he’s a great physical specimen and he’ll learn the game quickly. He’s been in camp now so he’ll be a lot further down the road than other rugby league lads would be at this stage of their union career, so I think he’s got a chance.”
Healey added on the mental battle Burgess now faces as he continues to mull over his options, with there obvious benefits to be found in jumping ship: “That’s the problem, you life in Sydney, you play in Sydney and you’re a star in Sydney, you walk out of there and you have got a difficult task at Bath. He’s still a star, but he wants to perform more. I think he probably just wants to touch the ball a bit more and play a bit more rugby. I said to Mike Ford a while ago after the first game, he touched the ball three times in the first game, he would touch the ball three times in a set of carries playing rugby league. He just gets bored.
“Had he turned up for Bath and torn it apart, people would have gone, ‘Here we go, another Sonny Bill Williams’, but he was okay, he wasn’t amazing. Everyone could see the potential but he hadn’t quite delivered, and yet still he got selected. I think that is ultimately what upset the apple cart.
“I’d just like him to see it out until its conclusion, which is two years away. He’d still only be 28, so he could go back to rugby league then.”
Burgess is, of course, not the only player to have faced some tough questions over recent weeks, with Healey admitting that English rugby as a whole finds itself in a ‘dark place’ at present, with it possible that things could get even worse before they get better.
He said: “Are there any shoots of recovery? There are certainly players you could build a team around, but I think we are in a very, very dark place for England rugby at the minute and it could be another wooden spoon Six Nations if we don’t make drastic changes now. We have got Italy away, and we are the only side that Italy haven’t beaten, so I imagine that they will be quite up for that game.”
That fixture of which Healey speaks is due to take place at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome on February 14th.
Whether Burgess lines up for England in that Valentine’s Day clash, or any other international contest further down the line, remains to be seen, with the only man who can offer a definitive answer as to what his future plans hold yet to speak out on the issue.
And it is for that reason that speculation will continue to rage.