Cross-code coach Michael Cheika tells England where they got it badly wrong with Sam Burgess

 Credit: Alamy

Credit: Alamy

The coach who knocked England out of the 2015 Rugby World Cup, Michael Cheika, believes that the Red Rose took the wrong approach with Sam Burgess.

Burgess made his name in rugby league, becoming one of the best players in the 13-man code.

When the Rugby Football Union prized him away from the South Sydney Rabbitohs, it was seen as a significant coup for the 15-man game.

He joined Bath and was promptly called up to Stuart Lancaster’s squad for the World Cup, under a year after crossing codes.

However, it proved to be disastrous as the Red Rose became the only host nation to be knocked out of the group stage.

The fallout

Burgess’ fast-tracking into the set-up became a bone of contention and he would depart not long after the global tournament to return to rugby league and the Rabbitohs.

There was debate over his best position, while there was plenty of focus on whether he could grasp the technical aspects of the sport.

But Cheika, who has also coached in rugby league with Lebanon, believed that English rugby overcomplicated matters and that Lancaster was wrong to put him at centre.

“If you look at a guy like Israel (Folau) for example, who made that cross-code change easily, then you go to a guy like Sam Burgess, who was taken over by England,” he told The Good, The Bad and The Rugby Australia podcast.

“For me, that’s the simplest exchange you could have made. You see what his strengths are in rugby league and you say, ‘Right mate, you just get on the side of the scrum, you just run hard, tackle hard and, if you can work out what to do in the rucks, good luck to you.’

“He’s just such a beast in that mode, so why would you try and throw him in the centres, and make him think about defence?”

Success stories

Cheika highlighted some of the success stories from league and also revealed that he was in talks with star NRL half-back Luke Keary about switching codes in 2016.

“You could see what Brad Thorn could do as a player when he’s crossing over from code to code, Sonny Bill (Williams) who’s gone from code to code,” he said.

“I know they’re high profile players but there’s a few players in our squad here at Argentina who could easily cross into a league game.

“Of course they need some preparation but they’ve got the skills in their given position.

“The tricky ones are halves. A guy like Luke Keary, when he was off at Souths, we had a good talk about him coming to rugby because he was a rugby kid originally.

“He was keen for it but I couldn’t get anyone to take him, I couldn’t take a Super Rugby team to take him.”

READ MORE: Inside Michael Cheika’s team bonding exercises including ‘kidnapping’ players, private investigators and family trees

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