The Day Sam Burgess Finally Put On a Bath shirt!!
It was around a year ago that speculation began that 'Slammin' Sam Burgess was going to sign for Bath. It was as far back as February this year that Bath Rugby & South Sydney Rabbitohs confirmed that Sam would indeed be making the switch from rugby league to rugby union at the end of the NRL season. Sam said at the time his single focus was on bringing the Rabbitohs their first title in many a long year. His focus paid off & in a now legendary man of the match of the match, including that now famous fractured cheekbone & eye socket, won the Rabbitohs that NRL Grand Final victory.
Sam was expected to arrive in Bath on October 15th but that was delayed due to the surgery needed to repair that injury. Sam finally touched on UK soil yesterday, after getting the medical all clear to fly. Today he took to the pitch at The Rec in a Bath shirt, not to play but for the benefit of the gathered media & cameras.
There are 2 primary questions on everybody's lips. When will Sam first play? The second & more intriguing question, what position will Sam play?
There were many ways those 2 questions were answered by both Mike Ford & Sam Burgess today. The answer to the first perhaps gives an insight into the second.
Sam will begin training at Farleigh House, Bath’s luxurious training ground on Monday. As Sam says it will be a while before he can begin contact training but he will have a full programme of on field, as well off field training in the intricacies of rugby union. Both Sam & Mike were clear that Sam would make his debut in a Bath shirt when Sam was fully fit & he had earn the right to wear it. Pressed at one point, Mike Ford said his debut could be in 2 weeks against Newcastle or it could be in 2 months.
In the meantime Sam has been teamed up with Bath's South African flanker, Francois Louw, to act as a mentor on the game of rugby union. In addition Sam will be training with other injured backrow players Carl Fearns & Matt Garvey. As Mike Ford said today "if you want my gut feeling, I think Sam's going to play in the backrow ". But clearly this will evolve in training & indeed after Sam takes to the pitch. Andy Farrell, perhaps the previous most famous rugby league forward to convert to rugby union started out his union career at Saracens playing in the pack before playing at centre.
Bath players wear a different sponsor's logo shirt, depending on their position. Sam was today handed a shirt saying 'On The Ball', which is worn by Bath backrow forwards. However, Mike Ford said no significance should be read into this.
Sam said that key factors in his decision to choose Bath was knowing Mike Ford, Mike Ford's rugby league experience & Bath's success at transitioning players from rugby league to rugby union, which started with Jason Robinson.
How focused is Sam Burgess on playing for England & at next year's World Cup? Clearly Sam would like to play for England & at next year's World Cup. After all, most people would like to surely & Sam is now a professional rugby union player & pulling on the red rose shirt is the pinnacle. But Sam is a determined & focused man, his desire is to learn the union game, the respect of his team mates & to play for Bath.
What has Sam got to learn? He has a lot to learn on the intricacies of rugby union. But as Mike Ford said today we have bought Sam for who he is & what he can do, we won't be making the mistake of trying to change him into something he isn't, he won't be playing on the wing. Sam says that learning the breakdown & presenting the ball will probably be 2 of his biggest learning challenges.
Sam says that he had always intended to switch from rugby league to rugby union but thought this would come in his late 20s but had come a little earlier. Sam is currently 25.
So when will Sam first play in a Bath shirt? The straight answer came from Mike Ford today "Sam will play when he's ready, we just don't know when that is". With the injury & learning the so called dark arts of the game it's looking like it could be a December debut? That debut could be for Bath's United (second) team on a Monday evening or straight into the first team, as was the case with Kyle Eastmond.
Where will Sam play? Pick a number - 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 12, 13? Clearly Bath & Mike Ford are leaning towards that debut being in the backrow but that's before Sam has even touched a ball in training. Time will tell. But maybe a debut at 8?
Sam Burgess has made quite an impression in rugby union before even playing. The column inches being filled about his move over the past year. That move is now a reality. What is certain, is when Sam Burgess takes to the field in a Bath shirt, whatever position he plays, his natural rugby talent will do all the talking.
All the best Sam!
By @RugbyBath for #rugbyunited