Bath’s best player, the Springbok flanker Francois Louw, will return to the starting line-up in Friday night’s European Champions Cup game with the French side Montpellier: his first appearance since breaking down with neck problems during the southern hemisphere Rugby Championship back in the summer. It is big news for the West Country club – but not, in this celebrity-driven age, as big as the latest bulletin surrounding Sam Burgess.
It seems Burgess, yet to play an hour of union since switching codes from rugby league, will also start – an eagerly-awaited event that should guarantee a sell-out at the Recreation Ground. The 25-year-old Yorkshireman is on the team sheet following two appearances off the bench, both of which generated more heat than light in terms of gauging his aptitude for the complexities of the 15-man game. We will know far more about his prospects come Saturday morning.
“Sam has played 55 minutes for us so far: even if people think he’s super-human, we need to have a modicum of sense about all this,” said Toby Booth, the Bath assistant coach. “When you’re dealing with one of the world’s best players from a league point of view, I suppose it warrants all the attention. But Sam hasn’t been distracted and neither has anyone else at the club.”
Burgess will play at inside centre in a game Bath must win, preferably with a try-scoring bonus point, to keep the European flame alive past Christmas. He has also been touted as a back-row contender, but Louw’s return, together with the impressive form of the youngster David Sisi, means Booth and company have no need to fast-track him in that direction.
“Francois applies massive defensive pressure at the breakdown and makes so many good decisions,” Booth said. “As for David, we’ve been delighted with his progress at a time when injuries have made back-row selection really difficult. He’s been unlucky with injury himself, but with the way he plays it’s not much of a surprise. There’s a lot of collision in him – if you keep putting yourself in the vice, something will break – but he’s doing an excellent job.”
Leicester also need to complete a double over French opposition, but winning at the European champions Toulon is a different proposition to seeing off a team as flakey as Montpellier. The Midlanders are sure to perform with passion, though, especially as one of their former props, Martin Castrogiovanni, has been so poetic in expressing his thoughts about the Welford Road hierarchy.
Castrogiovanni left Leicester for Toulon a couple of seasons back and after losing to his old club on Saturday night, he let rip with a profane tirade aimed principally at Richard Cockerill, the Tigers’ boss. By yesterday, he had thought better of it.
“I want to make amends and apologise to anyone feeling offended,” the Italian international said. “It wasn’t my intention to offend, only to point out my position. I hate lies and hypocrisy. I have always been a loyal person... but I felt I had been attacked.”
Leicester have referred the incident to the tournament organisers and are also alleging that Delon Armitage, the former England full-back now playing for Toulon, used offensive language towards or in the vicinity of spectators during the match. An investigation is now underway.Reuse content