Burgess banned but England deny ‘thug’ jibe

ENGLAND coach Steve McNamara has dismissed claims Sam Burgess is a “thug” insisting a one-match ban is sufficient punishment for his star forward.

The Prince of Wales, speaks with England national rugby league player Sam Burgess (right), during a reception for the Rugby League World Cup at Clarence House in London.

England chose not to appeal that suspension yesterday after he was charged with a grade A careless tackle on Australia’s Sam Thaiday in their opening World Cup loss.

It means the South Sydney player will miss Saturday’s Group A game against Ireland at Huddersfield but return when they face Fiji at Hull’s KC Stadium a week later.

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However, the Sydney Daily Telegraph yesterday launched a scathing attack on the former Bradford Bulls prop claiming he was a “thug” who should be banned for the entirety of the tournament.

Burgess, 24, had been put on report for a swinging arm that concussed Brisbane Broncos second-row Thaiday in the second half.

But McNamara – who gave Burgess his Super League debut as a teenage Bradford player in 2006 – looked bemused when told of that suggestion and said: “Calling him a thug is completely wrong.

“Anyone who knows Sam knows he isn’t that type of player.

“He got his timing wrong on the play. If you watch the tackle closely, you’ll see he doesn’t go to maim anybody but he got his timing wrong and if that happens and you hit someone around the head and collect them, you pay the price.

“Thankfully, Sam Thaiday was okay and it was nothing too major. It’s probably the Aussie press again – they’ve got to look at their own a little bit more.”

McNamara, who hopes to have Wigan Warriors captain Sean O’Loughlin back from injury to replace Burgess this weekend, admits it was worrying whether Burgess would get a longer ban.

“It was out of our hands,” he said. “Once he got put on report, people had to judge that by seeing it.

“But I’ll go back to (Australia’s) Tony Williams’s tackle at Wembley a few years back when he nearly decapitated Ben Westwood; he got a one-match ban.”

The suspension is certainly frustrating for Burgess, the Yorkshireman who has become such a force in the NRL but, after a series of injuries, was playing only his first England game since 2010.

However, McNamara added: “We judged the incident and he’s got to pay the price for his clumsy tackle – that’s the right way to describe it – and he’ll do so by missing this game.

“We’ve got to take that on the chin.”

George Burgess, Sam’s younger brother who made such an impressive debut in that game, knows what the Australian media can be like given he, too, plays for South Sydney.

“They like to put that label on him a few times,” he said.

“You just kind of put stuff like that to one side and stay in the bubble.

“At the end of the day it’s not going to affect you if you don’t let it.”

Burgess, 24, looked anything but a ‘thug’ yesterday as, attired in his official England suit, he chatted with the Prince of Wales at Clarence House, another significant fillip for the World Cup’s excellent start and rising profile.

Prince Charles talked for an hour with players – including Australia captain Cameron Smith – and officials from all 14 nations plus tournament organisers at the reception.

“It was quite surreal,” said World Cup general manager Sally Bolton. “The Prince wasn’t able to get to any of the matches due to his diary commitments but he was keen to do something for the tournament, particularly because of his connections with the Commonwealth.

“He met representatives of all the teams and chatted for a long time to Sam Burgess.”

Organisers hope the tournament will build on the legacy left by the London 2012 Olympics and say early signs are encouraging.

A total of 83,370 fans have watched the opening six matches and England will play in front of a capacity crowd of 25,000 for that match at Huddersfield.

“Ticket sales have gone mad,” Bolton added. “It’s going really well. We have been overwhelmed by the interest and demand for tickets.

“We’re very pleased with it so far but there is still an awful long way to go. We were always confident in what we needed to do to achieve, but we needed the players to perform and they have.”

McNamara, meanwhile, says he is unlikely to make any significant changes to his side against Ireland who lost their first game 32-14 versus a powerful Fiji on Monday.

Former Castleford Tigers stand-off Rangi Chase came in for criticism from some quarters for failing to create much in the 28-20 loss against the Kangaroos with Gareth Widdop a potential replacement.

However, McNamara would not be drawn.

“With the limited amount of possession we had at the weekend – we only had 29 play-the-balls in the opposition half compared to their 73 – it’s phenomenal we came up with some of the things we did,” he said.

“We’ve got really good options in the halves, so there’s some intriguing decisions for us. We’ve lost game one, so game two becomes very important for us.

“As we’ve found with our team over the last couple of years, consistency in terms of selection has enabled us to find some fluency.

“If we need to make changes, we will do but I won’t be playing everyone just for the sake of it.

“It’s about winning the tournament, so we’ll find the best route for that, it’s not about pleasing everybody.”

Although prop James Graham was apparently omitted from the side that faced Australia for disciplinary reasons, McNamara said cryptically yesterday: “James Graham was available last week.

“Everyone was barring Sean O’Loughlin who we decided not to risk. But everyone was available last week and this.”

Matterson returns: Page 22.