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RUGBY: Lancaster welcomes Burgess Bath switch
Updated 3:57pm Monday 17th February 2014 in Sport
ENGLAND head coach Stuart Lancaster has welcomed Sam Burgess' cross-code switch to rugby union with Bath, predicting he will be a "great asset".
Lancaster views Burgess, who will join Bath from the South Sydney Rabbitohs in October after agreeing a three-year contract, as having the skills to make an impact in union.
"Sam's carrying game will be easily transferable," Lancaster said.
"His understanding of running lines and defence are skills that he'll be able to transition, although I wouldn't say it's easy.
"The big difference comes in and around the breakdown and the difference in gap between the defensive lines, which is obviously closer in rugby union, so timing is obviously an issue.
"In terms of overall rugby skill set, he has a very strong skill set.
"So I think he'll be a real asset, but there's a lot of learning to be done as well."
So far Burgess' move has been bankrolled by Bath only, but Lancaster has confirmed that the Rugby Football Union might yet have a financial involvement in a player who could yet feature at next year's World Cup.
"I think there are discussions ongoing still," Lancaster said.
"There have been none over the actual move itself. It has all drifted above my head, but I think there are discussions ongoing."
Burgess' most likely position is thought to be inside centre, although Bath are also considering number eight as a possibility.
"It's probably not my decision," Lancaster said.
"The easiest way to start is without the complexity of the line-out and everything that goes with it - where there's work to be done on lifting and line-out and everything in the back row.
"But whatever position he plays, he will a great asset."
Bath head coach Mike Ford insists no firm decision over Burgess' position has been made.
"We're not too precious and we're not going to put a position on him at this stage," Ford told Sky Sports News.
"We're going to wait until he gets over here before putting him in and pigeon-holing him into a position."
It was initially stated that Burgess had been signed with a view to his participation in the 2015 World Cup, which England host, but Ford admits it would be a "tough ask".
"All he needs to do is have a good season for Sydney, come over here and work really hard," Ford said.
"It's a tough ask (playing at the World Cup) in my opinion.
"He's got to play really well, train very well and get into the Bath first team first and foremost. Then he has to play consistently well in the Premiership.
"He's a good footballer and is intelligent. I wouldn't be surprised if he did, but it's a tough ask."
England coach Steve McNamara is hoping twins Tom and George Burgess can help fill the void in his team created by the loss of older brother Sam.
McNamara, who gave Sam Burgess his Super League debut at Bradford in 2006, described the South Sydney forward as the "jewel in the crown of rugby league", but will now prepare for the end-of-season Four Nations Series in Australia and New Zealand without the 25-year-old.
Sam Burgess played alongside his 21-year-old brothers in the 2013 World Cup, as well as for the Rabbitohs, and McNamara expects the youngsters to make further progress in the new NRL season which kicks off next month.
McNamara, who is working as an assistant coach at Sydney Roosters, is also confident that the Super League can continue to produce world-class players.
"We recognise Sam is a huge loss to the game of rugby league, and particularly the England team, but we'll just have to deal with it," McNamara said.
"We produce fantastic players and, because we do such a good job in that area, other sports will look our players.
"It's very difficult to replace someone like Sam like for like, but you've seen the rise to prominence of George Burgess and Tom Burgess and there could be a few others who spring up as well.
"I notice St Helens re-signed Jonny Lomax recently on a four-year deal."
Meanwhile, Salford Red Devils owner Marwan Koukash has claimed he was ready to sign Burgess for 2015 and insists he will make another bid for him when his contract is up with Bath.
Koukash, who failed with a £1million bid for Sam Tomkins and has also talked of luring the likes of Sonny Bill Williams and Billy Slater to Barton, wants a relaxation of the Super League salary cap to lure the stars to his club.
"Sam was very much in our plans here at Salford," Koukash told the Manchester Evening News. "I have held discussions with his management team and it is very disappointing to now see a player of this stature going into rugby union.
"But when his contract is up, I can assure our fans a contract will again be on the table for him to consider coming back to Super League and playing for Salford. I have always said it was my intention to bring the best players to Salford.
"We were very interested in Sam and were serious about our offer. I have already said our players will continue to leave our game if we do not raise the salary cap."
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