Sam Burgess has denied reports in Australia that he is planning a swift return to rugby league next year with the South Sydney Rabbitohs.
The build-up to England’s Rugby World Cup opener against Fiji at Twickenham on Friday has been interrupted by speculation that Burgess is ready to switch codes for a second time and rejoin the club he helped win last October’s NRL grand final.
Burgess, however, insists he is focused only on winning his third cap when he steps off the bench against the Islanders.
“I can completely deny it, there is no truth in it and I haven’t had a word from Australia. I don’t know where it has come from but it’s definitely not true,” said Burgess.
“I am not too worried really. If this story was meant to unsettle me, I’m not sure it has worked!
“Let’s just crack on because I haven’t heard anything. It is just a beat up story, so let’s put it to bed.
“Once I made the decision to come over, one of my goals was to play in this World Cup and it’s here now.
“For me I have just got to get out there and do my bit for the team and this country. I will give it my heart.”
Bath head coach Mike Ford has stated that Burgess would see out the two years left on his contract, while his England counterpart Stuart Lancaster sees the 26-year-old staying in union until the 2019 World Cup.
“I had a long conversation with Sam and it wasn’t mentioned once. I don’t consider it an issue,” said Lancaster.
“He has come to rugby union because he wants to play international rugby union and he has ambitions further down the line to make it beyond just England. He wants to play in this World Cup and the next World Cup.”
Burgess hinted during his final-quarter cameo against Ireland 10 days ago that he can cause problems when defences have become more ragged, although he was unable to deliver the breakthrough in the 21-13 victory at Twickenham.
The Yorkshireman insists, however, he will not run out against the Fijians with the intention of producing something spectacular.
“I have a job to do personally for the team and I will try and execute that as well as I can,” said Burgess.
“I have never shied away from a challenge and I will enjoy the time I get and it’s important not to try and overdo things in the limited time you get.
“I just have to continue the job the guys have started. We have some fresh legs. I can bring a little spark, if needed. But it’s about doing the job that has been assigned to the guys before me. And then finish it off with as much intensity and passion as I can.”
Courtney Lawes, meanwhile, insists England are braced to survive an early onslaught from Fiji out of the expectation that the Islanders will be vulnerable when Friday’s World Cup opener nears its conclusion.
Twickenham will provide the setting for a fascinating showdown between the hosts, who are second favourites behind New Zealand to lift the Webb Ellis Cup, and a team with the potential to claim at least one major scalp in an epic Pool A that also features Wales and Australia.
Fiji are a genuine threat with gifted trio Vereniki Goneva, Nemani Nadolo and Niko Matawalu providing the stardust in a well-prepared squad that has been hailed internally as the finest in the nation’s history. One potential weakness, however, is the lack of conditioning witnessed against Canada nine days ago when the Pacific Nations Cup champions were playing their first game in a month. It is a shortcoming that has not gone unnoticed by England.
“Fiji are among the most physical teams in the world, especially in the first half,” said Lawes.
“But they tire quicker than other teams – you can’t be that fast and that powerful and sustain it.
“We have to ride the early storm, make sure we keep up with them physically in the early collisions. Hopefully our gameplan will tell towards the end.”
The belief that England can pull clear in the final quarter was echoed by head coach Stuart Lancaster, who also highlighted the scrum as a source of Red Rose superiority, particularly when Fiji’s replacement front row arrives from the bench.
“These games take 80 minutes. If we can play for the full 80... Fiji haven’t played against a northern hemisphere team for a while,” said Lancaster.
“We have to make sure we use our effectiveness in the scrum for the full 80 minutes because obviously they will have to make their substitutions in that area too.
“We certainly see that as an area we can go at that them, along with lineout drive and maul.”
Fiji have worked hard at giving themselves a fighting chance against England, Wales and Australia, adding defensive structure and set-piece stability to the vast array of attacking talent.
Leading the Red Rose defence against the agile yet powerful Islanders will be Lawes.
“I don’t mind a tackle. We’ve got no problems with Fiji being physical, every team is physical these days. There are no pushovers in international rugby,” said Lawes.