Sam Burgess Breaks Silence On Decision To Leave Union In Telling Article
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Sam Burgess has opened up about why his rugby career ended so abruptly as he looks set to rejoin the South Sydney Rabbitohs in the National Rugby League.
In an 1800 word article written for the Daily Mail the 26-year-old said his decision to leave club side Bath and England rugby was due to his desire to start a family in Australia, the scrutiny on his performances, and the realisation his true love was rugby league.
Burgess said he was willing to stay until Christmas and had been at training, expecting to play, but the club fast tracked his release after he spoke to coach Mike Ford about his plans for the future.
Burgess made it clear that England’s Rugby Football Union had been supportive during the whole process and he was proud of his achievements in the game.
I couldn’t do anything right. I was fighting a losing battle playing rugby union in England… my heart just isn’t in it
My decision to leave Bath and move back to Australia was for personal reasons, but it was also because I wanted to spend the rest of my career playing the game that’s in my heart.
Rugby league is in my heart. I’m looking forward to getting back to Sydney, where I’ll be with my family and playing for the Rabbitohs alongside my brothers again.
Part of me is disappointed to be leaving. Everyone is saying I’ve taken the easy option but it would have been easier to stay and play on in union. I could have just kept playing at six for Bath, but I believe it would have taken about 18 months for me to break into the England team in that position — and my contract is up in about 18 months. In sport we have a very limited window in which to compete at the top level and I didn’t want to see those 18 months go by without the same excitement and enthusiasm as the previous 12.
Away from rugby, I had to weigh up, long-term, whether I wanted to be in England. My fiancee and I are hoping to start a family in the next year or two and it would be great to have our kids in Sydney where their grandparents will be around to help out.
It was tough going in to see Mike (Ford, Bath’s head coach) to ask to be released from my contract. I know I have disappointed some of the players and fans at Bath. I completely understand why they would feel that way. I am sorry for the fact that I’ve left a hole in that team
But the way I explained it was that my heart just isn’t in it, and if my heart’s not in it then they won’t get the best performances from me. Either way, I’m doing the wrong thing, so I thought I would be a man about it, go in, be honest with them and see if we could sort something out that worked for both parties. They were disappointed but we came to an arrangement that represented fairness.
We didn’t actually plan for it to happen as quickly as it did. We were looking towards Christmas as the time for me to leave, but then the transfer fee got paid and after that it was out of my hands. I trained on Tuesday, expecting to play the following weekend, but then everything got sorted overnight and my services were no longer required.
I wanted to go in and see the team, to get my point across, but Stuart Hooper, our captain, said he didn’t think I’d be well received there, which was fair enough — if that’s how he felt. I wanted to go and say goodbye, not just as a team-mate but as a friend, but that didn’t happen. I’ve not been back in there, but I’ve spoken to guys away from the club.
The RFU have come in for a lot of stick for my decision, which I think is unfair. They didn’t make it for me. They didn’t push me into it. In fact, they have been supportive through it all. I disagree with this idea that I have been let down or treated badly. The RFU have not treated me badly.
I came to union to try to play at 12, but I ended up playing at six for Bath. I managed to get into the England training squad as a 12, even though I was playing as a flanker for my club. The competition in the back row was really tough and I had no chance of making the team there, but at 12 I had a better shot because there aren’t as many technicalities in the way so you can learn it quicker. At six England wanted a jumping option in the lineouts, an area in which I have no experience.
To get in that 31-man squad, I had to work so hard. To crack it was really, really tough but I loved that. I made it into the team as a 12 and I really felt that I fully deserved to be there. I think a lot of people outside the England camp had an agenda against both England and in some circumstances, me. Certain ex-players had an agenda and sections of the media had an agenda, too. I also think certain coaches not involved with England had an agenda.
Slowly but surely, when you are trying to get support within the team and the voices from outside with an agenda are so strong, it’s too powerful. No matter what I did, I always felt that I was fighting a losing battle.
That was an upsetting factor to me; that people who are supposed to love the game are actually tearing it to shreds. I felt like certain people didn’t want England and Stuart Lancaster to succeed. They were after him — so aggressively. He could never do a thing right, no matter what. I was right in the middle of that and it is unbelievable. It’s not a productive place to be.
Some ex-players just kept letting rip. It was a losing battle from day one. I couldn’t believe it. It’s almost like they don’t want anyone else to do well in the jersey. That’s definitely the feeling I got in rugby union. And since the tournament, there have been players coming out in the press, leaking stories. I find that really disappointing and I didn’t want to stay in a sport like that. It makes it harder to build on when people from the inside are crumbling.
If I hadn’t made the World Cup squad, I don’t think much would have changed. Those four months with England were possibly the most enjoyable four months I had in union, barring the end result. I had an awesome time. The training was tough and intense. I made new friends and felt like I had some amazing growth as a player. What makes it tough is everything going on around it — especially when you are a convert from league.
There have been some comments about the timing of my move back to league, but I don’t think the timing was ever going to be good. It was always going to be noisy and messy, unless I stayed for another 18 months, which I didn’t see happening.
I’ve been in contact with Madge (Michael Maguire, Rabbitohs coach) and Russell (Crowe, Rabbitohs co-owner) since I’ve been here, from day one. Yes, I spoke to Madge the day after we lost to Australia and yes, I watched the Grand Final that morning — of course I did, because I love rugby league. I sat at breakfast, watching the final on my phone. It was a bloody exciting game.
In rugby league, I used to get to certain times in the game when I was completely, physically gone. You feel like you are out on your feet, with the ball being in play for so long and my point of difference at times in league was being able to beat that, mentally, and help a few of the other boys get through it as well.
That’s what I enjoyed in rugby league; getting to that tough period as a player and getting through it.
Looking back, that’s what makes me love the game so much; the actual physical battle of it. Yeah, union is tough, there are tough parts of it, but I never found myself reaching that point. League took me to places I’d never been before in games but I never found that in union.
But it’s not the case that I was in a hurry to get out. We finished at the World Cup and I was deflated with the way things had gone and how the ‘blame game’ was played out and dealt with. It made me question whether I wanted to be part of it. I felt I was never going to win, regardless of what happened, so I thought: ‘I’m going to stop wasting my own time and everyone else’s time here.’
I’ve been criticised for my performances at the World Cup but I’m proud of how I performed. Yeah, I made a couple of errors like everybody else but if you want to break my game down, let’s look at the facts. While I was on the field, we were never behind, except against Australia when I came on for the last eight minutes.
Against Wales, I thought we were in complete control. We could have pulled further ahead but we weren’t clinical enough and gave a lot of penalties away. I was blamed for some of those penalties but I actually gave away zero penalties in that game. So if you want to break it down, let’s do that properly. I actually think my performances were fairly decent and I’m proud of that.
I thought the England environment was great and I’m a massive supporter of all the coaches and the squad. As players, I think we should take more responsibility for what has happened. We’re the ones out on the field, so if we think something isn’t right, we should get it changed, but that didn’t really happen.
Lanny has been unfairly criticised, in my opinion. Maybe he is an easy target or people want him gone. That’s what I mean about people having agendas. I feel for him — he’s a great guy and I learned a lot from him as a coach.
When I told him about my decision to leave, Stuart was disappointed. It doesn’t look great in the situation as it is now, but he had no clue about this and had never promised me anything. It is tough having to let those guys down and they got their point across to me, but they respected my decision.
I’ve spoken to quite a lot of the other England players and they’ve all been very honest. Some have said they are disappointed in me, but they understand. Some have said they wish I could be around in the future, but they get it. They all accept that it is my career and my decision to make.
Now, I’m looking forward to getting back to my family, to Sydney and to rugby league. My time here will always be remembered. I’ll look back on all the good times I had, not this two-week period of going through the mill.
I don’t have any regrets about playing union. I enjoyed it and met so many good people. I’ve got a lot of good friendships from it, but at the end of the day, the game just didn’t give me as much enjoyment as rugby league gives me.