SAM BURGESS believes it could be “a blessing in disguise” that he will have time to learn the rugby union code while he recovers from injury.
Bath’s superstar new recruit was unveiled at the Recreation Ground yesterday, having agreed a three-year contract that has seen him switch codes from rugby league.
A fractured cheekbone and eye socket suffered during the opening stages of South Sydney Rabbitohs’ National Rugby League Grand Final victory over Canterbury Bulldogs earlier this month will delay Dewbury-born Burgess’s high-profile union debut.
But the 25-year-old Yorkshireman does not intend it to stop him from carrying out an important watching brief in and around an international-studded Bath squad.
“We have not put any pressure on ourselves in terms of the injury,” said Burgess. “The surgeon said just to be smart.
“We want to make the correct decision at the right time for the team.
“Mike Ford (Bath head coach) said there is no pressure from his end, and that is probably a bit of a blessing which gives me the chance to see the game at ground level before I jump into the deep end.
“This could be a blessing in disguise to see the boys on the field.
“Things could improve drastically, or it could take longer than expected. There is no time limit. We will see how it goes over the next few weeks in training and make the correct decision.”
Ford admitted to a degree of frustration that league’s international player of the year is injured, but he has vowed not to rush his return to action.
“We have quite a few back-row players injured, and we have a padded cell which we will put them in over the next few weeks so, hopefully, the guys can take Sam to one side and say ‘this is how you present the ball, this is how we clear’,” said Ford.
“Sam will play when he is ready – we just don’t know when that is. It is a blessing that he can learn the game without any pressure of where he will play the game or when he will play.
“We have Newcastle in two weeks’ time, and he could be right for that game, but it could be two months, which takes us into the New Year. We have just got to make sure he is right.”
Burgess admitted that he did not think the chance to play union would come so early in his career, but despite huge expectation surrounding his code switch – and finding himself already being touted as an England squad candidate for next year’s World Cup – he intends taking things one step at a time.
“I have always had an ambition to have a go at rugby union. I did not think it would come this early,” he added. “I came back (to England) at the end of 2013 to play in the Rugby League World Cup, and I really missed England and English people.
“I saw Mike and Bruce (Bath owner Bruce Craig) at Bath. I saw it as an opportunity. I believed in the vision that Mike and Bruce had, and I could feel the passion for the club and I thought it was a great fit.
“Being in a team environment is one of the most powerful things. I am not getting carried away with anything. I understand it is going to take a lot of hard work and a lot of commitment to achieve what I want.”
Bath have yet to reveal where they see Burgess fitting into their team, with back-row and midfield both mentioned as possible areas, and he is also well aware that England speculation will rage once he makes his debut.
“A few areas have been thrown around,” he said. “If I am quite honest, I don’t know where I am best suited. Over time, I think that will become clear. It (England selection) is something I have no control over.
“There are always going to be outside influences that have their opinion. That’s part of the game, part of the sport and part of the challenge to ignore what is going on.”
Comment: Page 12.