Sunday 17 December 2017

Sam Burgess backs outgoing Leinster centre Ben Te'o to make major impact for England Down Under

Leinster's Ben Te'o. Photo: Ramsey Cardy / Sportsfile
Leinster's Ben Te'o. Photo: Ramsey Cardy / Sportsfile

Tom Rooney

Sam Burgess, arguably the most polarising code-hopper in the modern game, has backed outgoing Leinster centre Ben Te’o to thrive in the union Test arena when England tour Australia next month.

Few could forget the scathing criticism that Sam Burgess was subjected to in the aftermath of England’s loss to Wales at last year’s World Cup.

A ruthless inquest from those looking in quickly established that then head coach Stuart Lancaster’s decision to select the eminently inexperienced Burgess at centre against the Welsh was ill-advised to say the least.

As hosts, England’s inability to emerge from pool stage, albeit a veritable crucible of a group, was viewed as an unmitigated disaster, and, in many respects, Burgess became the figurehead for the failure.

Subsequently, Lancaster and his entire staff were relieved of their post and Burgess returned to League and old club the South Sydney Rabbitohs.

To be fair, Burgess had less than a year in the 15-man game when he lined out against a midfielder of Jamie Roberts’ prowess that night in Twickenham and, at Bath, Mike Ford had tended to deploy him as a blindside flanker.

Perhaps the 27-year-old was always on the fast track to nowhere having been looked to as England’s answer to Sonny Bill Williams.

Prior to being recruited by Matt O’Connor, Ben Te’o was a teammate of Burgess at the Rabbitohs and the pair were prominent contributors when the Sydney outfit finished as Premiers in 2014.

Te’o’s first campaign at the RDS began in the worst possible circumstances after he broke his arm in his first appearance in a Leinster jersey.

O’Connor and Leinster parted ways at the end of the season, while Te’o remained somewhat of an unknown quantity.

Sam Burgess.jpg
Sam Burgess had a poor World Cup

However, times have significantly changed.  Under Leo Cullen, Te’o has developed into a fine midfielder, at 12 or 13, and his partnership with Garry Ringrose has grown more potent with each game.

Of course, this afternoon Te’o will play his last game for the province in the Pro 12 final against Connacht at Murrayfield, having agreed to join Worcester next season.

Eligible for England through his grandmother, eyebrows were raised when Eddie Jones decided to include Te’o in the squad for the three-test tour of Australia.

Burgess told Sky Sports that he was extremely happy for his former teammate, who he expects to make a sizable impact down under.

"I'm delighted that he's in the squad and I think he's enjoying playing outside Johnny Sexton," he said. "He's been playing some good rugby and we keep in contact - I'm happy for him.

"He's going in there in a good frame of mind and I don't want to put any pressure on him but I'm sure he'll do well.

He went on to warn Te’o to expect the sort of scepticism he was subjected to from the purists but Burgess was in no doubt that his fellow convert would not be daunted.

"He will face scrutiny from the traditional rugby people who don't like too many league coverts but he's strong mentally and will give his best for the team.

"It will be fierce against Australia and I'm sure Eddie (Jones) will get them prepped - he has been very bold with who he has picked, especially in the pack, and I'm looking forward to seeing how we go."

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