Sam Burgess’ Mission Impossible

This might be the wild optimism of a Welsh fan in action but I’m struggling to find enough positives to make me believe that Sam Burgess will be a success at the 2015 Rugby World Cup held in England, which he longs to play in after his experience in last year’s home Rugby League World Cup.  Maybe it’s the anti-capitalist in me hoping that Rugby hasn’t turned into football where buying players is considered the norm ahead spending time and money on developing talented individuals like Sam Hill and Tom Stephenson, both winners of World Cup’s for England at age group level.  Recent history does after all show that even the payers who switch codes rarely go on to become super stars in both codes, only 3 really spring to mind; Sonny Bill Williams, Israel Folau and Jason Robinson.  England have tried to convert a few League players to Union Centre’s, with mixed results, Andy Farrell was hampered by injury, Henry Paul managed just 6 caps for England’s senior side excelling instead at 7’s, Chev Walker played just 6 games of Union, Shontayne Hape received 13 caps but during a particularly successful time for England and Kyle Eastmond is currently occupying the 12 jersey for Bath, which Burgess is due to fill and fill amply next season.  Eastmond has 2 England caps and looks more than promising, but the recent news has cast a fairly hefty shadow over his International prospects.

There’s no doubt he’s a phenomenal athlete there are umpteen YouTube videos to attest to that, he’s just 25, he is 6 feet 5 inches tall and weights over 18 stone, so he’s bigger than Jamie Roberts.  His League upbringing means that he has the ability to offload whilst being tackled by 2 or more players but on the adverse side of that, not many players are going to try and tackle him above the waist and once he’s on the ground his offloading will be largely negated.  Former Bath Centre and cross code International Shontayne Hape called Sam “Great Britain’s Sonny Bill Williams” when Burgess was just 17 years old, now I’m not sure of that’s a positive or a negative, he’s already got an awful lot to live up to and he’s yet to even play Rugby Union.

The negative points are that even England head coach Stuart Lancaster has gone on record saying that Burgess faces a “difficult transition” in order to be ready to represent England in the 2015 Rugby World Cup with under 12 months between his expected arrival in Rugby Union and the first game of the World Cup in Twickenham.   Positionally it will be an interesting move, partly because in League Burgess is a forward and in Union he’s expected to play as an Inside Centre but also because by and large successful cross code players have tended to be outside backs, or at least inside backs in League.  Normally in Union the 12 will lead the defensive line and since most Union defences are coached by former League players I can’t imagine Burgess will have a problem with that, where he may have an issue is standing so far away from the breakdown in the defensive line.  With more players committed to the breakdown area in Union the inside backs aren’t as close to the action as forwards are in League.

One slight concern could be Burgess’ penchant to be over physical in defence, he received a 2 game ban from the NRL for a “squirrel grip tackle”, he has also received separate 1 match bans for other tackles, once in the NRL for a grapple tackle on Canterbury full back Ben Barba and in the World Cup for a high tackle on Sam Thaiday which some commentators would have been punished with an 8 game ban had it been in the NRL.  During his time on Australia Burges has also missed time with injuries, a shoulder injury required surgery and saw him miss a month in 2011 and an ankle injury prematurely ended his 2011 season.

I’m slightly confused as to why England would feel they need another Centre at the moment, they’ve unearthed a gem in Luther Burrell who has scored 2 tries in his 2 starts in Test match rugby and they have Manu Tuilagi to come back from injury who himself has notched up 10 tries in 20 starts.  All the talk has been of a creative influence needed in midfield and unless I’ve seriously misjudged just how much decision making League forwards are involved in Burgess won’t be the new Will Greenwood that the media seem intent on finding.

The last point is the most pernickety by far and not really anything to do with Burgess, more a matter of circumstance, Stuart Lancaster said in an interview he expected Burgess to be aiming for a Lions tour and the 2019 Rugby World Cup.  Burgess’ deal with Bath is only a 3 year contract, which would take him to the Lions tour of New Zealand and a possible showdown with the aforementioned Sonny Bill Williams, but not to the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan.

Winter Olympics and Cold, Cold Hearts

Over 300 people complained about the BBC TV commentary of Team GB’s first Olympic Gold medal on snow.  Yes, you read that right, a British woman (snowboarding legend Jenny Jones no less) makes history and some people find something to complain about.  It’s hard not to judge these people, or at the very least jump to some ill informed stereotype about the type of people who would complain about something being broadcast on a TV channel (presumably the only channel they can receive on their tele-box, otherwise they would have switched to a different one). 

The complainant’s mindset aside, I can only assume they made a special effort to get out of bed at quarter past 9 on Sunday morning just to enjoy a sedate morning’s slopestyle and were appalled by the lack of “decorum” (a word I read in a newspaper report of the complaints). 

Ok so it’s confession time, I am a terrible snowboarder I am just about capable of riding to the bottom of the most simple of green runs without dying, but I am nonetheless a snowboarder, as oppose to a skier, or a moaner.  It’s not that I am per se terrible at athletic pursuits (I’ve played rugby, football, cricket and hockey all pretty averagely but with the odd flash of success) it’s more that riding a snowboard is one of the most unnatural actions one can perform, it’s essentially controlled falling and that’s when your board is contact with the snow!  Frankly anyone who can survive a 635 metre course with a 151 metre change of altitude and that includes 3 jumps and 3 rail sections deserves a medal.  This particular slopestyle course has been criticised by competitors for the size of its jumps and Charles Guildemont the American leader of the snowboarder’s union compared them to “dropping out of the sky”!  The course was altered a week before competition but not before it had claimed the collarbone of Men’s favourite Torstein Horgmo and caused 2 time snowboard halfpipe Gold medallist Shaun White to withdraw, even since the course was changed it has caused casualties as Canadian freeskier Yuki Tsubota was stretchered off the course after taking a hefty fall in the Women’s slopestyle competition today.

All 3 of the BBC’s commentary team on Sunday are elite snowboarders and 2 of them are former British Champions, like bronze medallist Jenny Jones, the 3rd member of the team is Aimee Fuller who happens to be Jones’ best friend, so they’d all be rightly emotional to see a home team competitor finish their run in 1 piece, let alone win a medal.  It’s hard to disagree with the people who didn’t approve of them cheering when Austrian competitor Anna Gasser slipped during her final run, but come on people the fact that the each rider just gets 2 runs instead of the “jam style” competition that is seen at the X-Games means pressure get’s to everyone, if you can’t enjoy Britain’s first medal on snow then maybe you should turn off the TV.