BATH head coach Mike Ford revealed that the seeds of the stunning deal to bring rugby league superstar Sam Burgess to the Rec were sown during last year’s 13-a-side code World Cup.
The capture of Burgess from Australian NRL side South Sydney Rabbitohs, who are co-owned by Hollywood star Russell Crowe, was confirmed this week, with the 25-year-old joining the club in October.
Despite rumours of Rugby Football Union assistance – with Burgess touted as a future England player – Ford revealed that Bath owner Bruce Craig had stumped up the money to complete the £500,000 deal, giving the club full control over the player.
The head coach said Burgess had gone to the top of their potential list of cross-code recruits during the Rugby League World Cup in Britain and Ireland last autumn.
Ford said: “We didn’t say, ‘Right, we’re going to get Sam Burgess’ on a particular day, it wasn’t like that,” he said.
“We were looking at everybody with the potential to switch codes.
“It started off small and then it just grew and grew, and now we’re sat here talking about him.
“He said he wanted to play union, to have a challenge in the future. I didn’t realise it was going to be so soon, I didn’t know exactly what he meant, but he’d said he would like to have a dig at some point.
“When I spoke to him I convinced him this was the right environment for his transfer to be as quick as possible.
“Obviously he’s world-class, and the saga and the way we got him was pretty satisfying as well, it wasn’t easy by any stretch.’’ Where Burgess will play has been the subject of scrutiny – with centre and number eight two of the early positions mentioned – but Ford said Bath will not draw quick conclusions.
Ford and his coaching team have already helped to oversee Kyle Eastmond’s conversion from a rugby league star into an England international in union and he revealed his son and England fly-half George Ford, and former league playmaker Eastmond, were already devising attacking patterns with their future teammate.
“He won’t be Francois Louw no matter how long he’s in the game,” said Ford.
“He won’t be a guy who steals the football on the ground and can do all that dog work.
“What he will be is Sam Burgess: he’ll be able to carry, tackle, pass through the line, pass before the line, smash people, be our talisman, be our leader, be able to do all the things he’s been doing for the last few years.
“With George there and Kyle there, the two, they are exchanging texts and telephone calls those three at the moment, devising some sort of move or something.’’ He added: “We think it’s a huge signing, a major coup.
“The kid went to Australia when he was 19, nobody does that. And in four years has become arguably the best player in that competition: he’s a megastar in the NRL.
“He wants to come to a club where he can make a huge difference.’’ Hooker Rob Webber is expected to return by the end of April after the ankle injury he suffered against Newcastle two weeks ago.
Flanker Carl Fearns and centre Jonathan Joseph also miss tomorrow’s Premiership clash with Wasps, but winger Semesa Rokoduguni, plus and Kyle Eastmond and Anthony Watson, who have been released by England, should feature.
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