Burgess set for Bath bow

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Published: Thursday 27th November 2014 by The News Editor

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Sam Burgess is ready for his Aviva Premiership debut a month ahead of schedule after being named on the bench for Bath’s Friday night clash with Harlequins.

The 25-year-old Rugby League convert had been pencilled in to make his top-flight union debut in Bath’s Christmas home derby clash with Exeter Chiefs on December 27.

The former South Sydney battering ram has pushed Bath’s coaching team to accelerate his conversion however, and could join Friday’s Recreation Ground fray in the centres.

Burgess suffered a nasty cheekbone and eye socket fracture in the opening minute of South Sydney’s first NRL grand final victory for 43 years in seeing off Canterbury Bulldogs 30-6 on October 5.

The England Rugby League star refused to leave the field, playing the entirety of the match in his last South Sydney bow before joining Bath.

Burgess’ injury has delayed the start of his rugby union switch, but now Bath bosses believe he is ready for action even though he only arrived in the west country a month ago.

Burgess has been the subject of a club-versus-country tussle ever since his big-money Bath move was announced, with Bath head coach Mike Ford adamant he will be best deployed in the back-row in the long run.

England head coach Stuart Lancaster wants to see Burgess feature at inside centre, now the national side’s problem position.

“A few areas (positions) have been thrown around,” said Burgess.

“If I am quite honest, I don’t know where I am best suited. Over time, I think that will become clear.

“Nothing is set in stone, and there is no pressure on myself from Mike (Ford) to do anything. I am just going to get in there, knuckle down and do my best.”

Harlequins have pitched discarded England scrum-half Danny Care back into action at scrum-half, after the 27-year-old was released from Test duties on Monday.

Rugby director Conor O’Shea has challenged Quins to hit back from last weekend’s frustrating 16-12 home defeat to Sale Sharks, making three changes to his starting line-up.

“We have pulled off extremely difficult away victories at Wasps and Gloucester in the last six weeks, so to go from that to the weekend loss was hugely tough to take,” said O’Shea.

“It’s a vital month ahead, with back-to-back European games against Leinster next: we can’t afford to lose focus again.”

Bath are sticking true to their word of initially using Burgess in midfield, as he will cover the centres for the visit of Harlequins, but Ford still harbours hopes of a fruitful future as a loose-forward for his star recruit.

Kyle Eastmond and Semesa Rokoduguni start for Bath after being released by England, while Ollie Devoto and Peter Stringer are set for their 50th club appearances.

Burgess himself has played down a quick assimilation into Lancaster’s England squad in time for next year’s World Cup, admitting he must learn the game before dreaming of a Test call.

The England boss will keep a close eye on Bath’s new arrival however, and Burgess’ devastating line-breaking abilities ensure he retains every chance of featuring in next year’s Six Nations.

“It (England selection) is something I have no control over,” said Burgess.

“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.

“In rugby league in Australia you are scrutinised in fine detail, so I have learnt a lot in five years over there. Hopefully, I can bring that here with me into my new career at Bath.

“Sometimes the greatest challenge of all is beating the outside noise, and once you find the key to that then it is quite easy.”

Published: Thursday 27th November 2014 by The News Editor

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