Sam Burgess’ rugby union switch is taking shape with English heavyweights Bath, producing a solid starting debut in a 32-12 defeat of Montpellier in the European Champions Cup.
The former South Sydney forward, who passed into Australian rugby league legend by playing through the pain of a fractured cheekbone and eye socket to win the Clive Churchill Medal in the Rabbitohs’ grand final triumph in October, is being manufactured into an inside centre, with a view to occupying that position in England’s 2015 World Cup campaign.
Unlike fellow code-hopper Sonny Bill Williams, who occupies the No.12 role for the All Blacks and Waikato Chiefs, Burgess has no rugby league experience in the backline. Adjusting to the playmaking responsibilities of inside centre, the different running lines and defensive patterns, as well as the general nuances of union, will be a challenge for the lionhearted Englishman.
But Burgess showed some promising signs in his 80-minute display for Bath, including an unorthodox try assist, punishing defence, expert decoy running and some powerful charges.
He remains very much a work in progress – one that needs to accelerate quickly if he is to play a role in September’s World Cup – but if Burgess can channel his unique talents into the uncustomary position, he may just emulate SBW’s convert success story.