Woodward backs Burgess to shine

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Published: Tuesday 9th December 2014 by The News Editor

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Sir Clive Woodward is backing Sam Burgess to make a rapid transition to rugby union and secure a place in England’s World Cup squad.

Former league superstar Burgess will make his full debut and only third appearance for Bath in Friday’s night’s European clash with Montpellier at the Recreation Ground.

Debate rages over whether he can learn the new code in time to be unleashed on England 2015 with head coach Stuart Lancaster viewing the second-string Saxons game against the Irish Wolfhounds on January 30 as a possible first outing in Red Rose colours.

Woodward, the mastermind of the 2003 World Cup triumph, believes the 25-year-old Yorkshireman can make an impact in union.

“Next year is going to be one of the biggest years in English rugby history because of the home World Cup and Sam has an outstanding chance of making the squad for that,” Woodward told Press Association Sport.

“He’s a great footballer, so there’s no logical reason why he shouldn’t play and it will be fun finding out what happens. He’s a very good player.

“Burgess is looking at inside centre which is one of the toughest positions to play in terms of understanding the game.

“He’s the number one rugby league player in the world and when a player of that stature comes over to union, you have to be excited by it.

“I’m sure he’ll be loving the attention. He’s under a lot of pressure because everyone will be watching him. It’s great for rugby union.”

England are hoping Burgess will solve their midfield conundrum after Kyle Eastmond, Owen Farrell and Billy Twelvetrees failed to nail down the inside centre position during the autumn.

Other options are Luther Burrell and Brad Barritt and Lancaster is no closer to establishing a settled centre partnership than when he took over in time for the 2012 RBS 6 Nations. Woodward believes it is time for some clarity at 12.

“I wouldn’t call inside centre a problem position, it just seems to be that England are revolving selection a lot,” he said.

“We have a very talented squad of players, but at some point we need to find the player who’s going to start against Australia and Wales at the World Cup. They’ve got to find that out pretty quickly.”

England defeated Australia in the climax to the autumn to rescue a series that was teetering on the brink of disaster following losses to New Zealand and South Africa.

Three successive runners-up finishes have made winning the Six Nations a priority seven months out from the World Cup, but Woodward insists they should look no further than the opener against Wales at the Millennium Stadium on February 6.

“You could lose every game between now and the World Cup but still win the World Cup,” Woodward said.

“As a coach you can only look at your next game, the World Cup will take care of itself one day.

“Their next game is in Cardiff and that should occupy one thousand per cent of their mind, because that will be one hell of a game. If they think beyond that, they’ll be in trouble.

“England were bashed up in Cardiff two years ago, so that’s a big game they must win.

“Wales have just beaten South Africa and will be strong at home, so England will learn a lot about themselves.”

Woodward, speaking in promotion of the Chess in Schools and Communities charity, believes chess has a role to play in sharpening minds in preparation for rugby games.

“In the coaching room we did a huge amount of strategy where you’re moving dots around boards, saying ‘what if, what if, what if’. And really that’s chess,” Woodward said.

“We don’t spend enough time in football, rugby or any team games thinking about strategy and what is happening in the next phases.”

Published: Tuesday 9th December 2014 by The News Editor

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