Sam Burgess: Why is everyone talking about the England centre ahead of the RWC 2015 clash with Wales?

Burgess's inclusion in the England starting XV has caused a stir up and down the country

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The Independent Online

Two words have dominated the build-up to the crunch clash between England and Wales that could define both nations’ Rugby World Cup hopes at Twickenham – Sam Burgess.

The 26-year-old has caused a stir on these shores beyond the rugby world, but some may ask why that is when he runs out in England’s starting line-up against Wales.

Why is everyone talking about Sam Burgess?

Burgess was quite a name in rugby league, succeeding Sonny Bill Williams as the RLIF International Player of the Year in 2014. Having established himself as one of Super League’s best with the Bradford Bulls, Burgess agreed a deal to head to Australia and join NRL side South Sydney Rabbitohs – the club co-owned by Hollywood A-lister Russell Crowe.

Burgess went on to become a key figure in the England squad after making his debut in 2008 at the age of just 19, having already made two appearances for Great Britain the previous year.

He made 13 appearances in total for England, with injury and availability hampering his time in the national set-up, but his sheer size and strength caught the eye of the RFU who launched a big money move to bring Burgess to rugby union in the form of Premiership side Bath with a view to fast-tracking him into the England set-up.

Why has he played so few games for England?

Burgess’s arrival was delayed due to a fractured cheekbone and eye socket sustained in the NRL Grand Final last year – though he still played the entire game and picked up the Man of the Match award. There was further confusion when Burgess started his Bath career at centre, only to struggle to adapt to his new position and drop in and out of the first-team.

Bath head coach Mike Ford looked to be onto something when he moved Burgess to blindside flanker, a move that looked to suit the former rugby league star’s physicality given his ability to break tackles and deliver them with equal ferocity.

However, with head coach Stuart Lancaster eager for Burgess to learn as much as possible in the space of just one season, he invited Burgess to train with the Six Nations squad despite leaving him out of selection, and only brought him in to the senior team for the World Cup warm-up matches with France and Ireland.

So why is Burgess playing at centre?

Lancaster sees Burgess as an impact 12, despite Bath’s insistence that he is a flanker. Burgess started the first match against France as well as come off the replacements’ bench against Ireland and Fiji – with his latest outing in the World Cup opener his most impressive performance in the red rose.

Injury to outside centre Jonathan Joseph forced Lancaster into a rethink, and despite the options of naming Exeter Chiefs centre Henry Slade or Saracens’ Owen Farrell alongside Brad Barritt, Lancaster has decided to trust his instinct and throw Burgess in at the deep end.

Burgess on the charge for England against Fiji in the World Cup (AP)

What can we expect from Burgess?

Big runs and big hits. Dewsbury-born Burgess appears to be phased by no-one on the rugby pitch and it’s for this reason that he has such a favoured reputation among fans of the game. However, in his opposite number, he comes up against one of the greatest Welsh centres of all-time in Jamie Roberts, with the behemoth No 12 a three-time Six Nations winner, successful British and Irish Lion tourist and World Cup semi-finalist among his many distinctions.

The collision one either runs towards the other will be one of the highlights of the match, and one that the Twickenham faithful will build-up to with a chorus of cheers, gasps and a healthy dose of expectation.

Sam Burgess in NRL action for South Sydney Rabbitohs last year

What else is interesting about Sam Burgess?

He’s one of four brothers that all play rugby professionally. Not just that, they all played for Souths at the same time, with Sam accompanied by his older brother Luke and twins Tom and George in the same line-up. The lasting memory of that game was the site of his emotional mother, Julie, in the stands watching her four sons compete.

Sadly, Burgess’s father, Mark, died after suffering from motor neurone disease. Mark was also a rugby league player, having turned out for Nottingham City, Rochdale Hornets, Dewsbury and Hunslet.