Sunday 15 September 2019

Example of Burgess proves league stars struggle to make conversion to union

Sam Burgess
Sam Burgess Newsdesk Newsdesk

For most here it will pass under their rugby radar, but I find it particularly disappointing news that Sam Burgess will no longer be seen playing the 15-a-side version.

We can never say never and he is only 26, a relative novice in professional terms but I suspect the painful experience of the last few months will have put him off Union forever.

It would be wrong to describe him as a stunning success at Bath but under Mike Ford, a former League convert himself, the talented and brave-hearted Burgess was making slow if steady progress. In truth, Ford was as bewildered as the rest in cracking whether his future in Union lay at centre or somewhere in the back-row.

With respect to my many friends who have packed down in the last line of the scrum, I humbly suggest that blindside flanker would have been the position best suited to the Burgess skill-set.

Yes, he could carry the ball and, perhaps in time, develop the off-loading ability of a Sonny Bill Williams in midfield but 'SBW' is an exception. As so many League to Union converts have found over the years, the problem is the simplicity of League to the intricacies of Union. It is a bridge too far.

In League, the aim is for the ball carrier to retain possession. In Union, the carrier must release the ball as best he can so that his team-mates can then regain possession.

In League, boot to ball is of necessity by way of the last kick of a set of six phases. In Union, it is whenever you see fit (much too often from an Irish perspective). There are no line-outs or meaningful scrums in League.

While Union now mirrors League defensively it is probably the only similarity between them, beyond the shape of the ball. The point being that unless you are a Jason Robinson, a Lote Tuqiri or an Israel Folau (all-back three specialists), the path to Union success is a minefield. Even ball-carriers of the Brad Thorn ilk are few and far between given the extra demands of the Union set- piece.

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By comparison, the traffic going the other way - though significantly reduced since '95 - has had precious few failures. Think Scott Quinnell, Jonathan Davies, Alan Tait our own Brian Carney too, and you get the lop-sided but revealing picture.

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