‘A total mess’: Clive Woodward hits out at ‘arrogant’ English RFU
‘I said last week that Sam Burgess is not to blame for this mess and I stand by it’
Sam Burgess has left Bath with immediate effect, returning to Australia. Photograph: David Davies/PA
World Cup-winning coach Clive Woodward has launched a stinging attack on English rugby following Sam Burgess’ return to the South Sydney Rabbitohs, describing it as “embarrassing”, “arrogant” and a “laughing stock”.
Burgess has decided to go back to rugby league after just one season in union, cutting short his stint with Bath to rejoin old club Souths on a three-year deal.
Burgess, who says he has missed his family in Australia, found himself in the spotlight during England’s miserable World Cup campaign having been fast-tracked into the national set-up despite his lack of experience.
The 26-year-old’s premature return to league means he will be considered among the biggest cross-code flops in history, but Woodward believes it is wrong to lay any blame on player and has heavily criticised the Rugby Football Union for its part in the “total mess” English rugby currently finds itself.
Writing in his column in the Daily Mail, Woodward said: “I said last week that Sam Burgess is not to blame for this mess and I stand by it.
“But with his return to rugby league we’ve reached one of the all-time lows and most embarrassing points in English rugby history.
“The RFU has spent the last four years congratulating itself on the direction in which we’re heading, but the truth is we have marched confidently into a total mess. The review after the 2011 World Cup was a shambles.
“Players and coaches let down by media leaks, good men exposed as scapegoats and lesser men hiding and shirking responsibility. Nothing has changed.”
England’s 2003 World Cup-winning coach added: “We are the laughing stock of not only world rugby but also sport and business. The rest of the world says those involved in English rugby are arrogant. I hate this reputation, but that is exactly what the RFU have been.”
It was confirmed on Thursday that Burgess, who won five caps for England under Stuart Lancaster, was heading back to Australia to rejoin brothers George and Tom at the Rabbitohs in time for the start of next year’s NRL campaign.
Burgess played a key role in Souths winning the 2014 Grand Final and Rabbitohs chief executive John Lee was thrilled to finally complete a move that he said had been on the club’s agenda for a while.
“It’s a great day for the club,” he said on Rabbitohs.com.au.
“It’s taken a while. It’s taken a couple of months for this to come to fruition but as a lot of the members know unfortunately we had to lose Issac Luke and Glenn Stewart at the back of end of this year but with that came some room to go for a marquee player, and especially an attacking forward like Sam and it’s just great news for all our members and the club.
“I spoke to Sam this morning and he’s got some mixed feelings because he has a great relationship with coach (Mike) Ford at Bath and also the players there, but he’s going to have a great welcome back when he gets here.
“Sam lifts the whole club. He’s got a certain energy level, a certain amount of gravitas. There’s no doubt that Sam Burgess brings an X-factor to our club and specifically to his mates on the team.”
Burgess said after sealing his switch back to league: ”I must thank Bath especially for granting my release to return home to my family, who I have missed more than I could have imagined.
”I am also extremely excited to be joining back up with South Sydney.
”I had a wonderful time in England and learnt a lot about the game of rugby union as both a back and a forward, and I have definitely developed as an all-round player and athlete after that.”
Souths coach Michael Maguire, meanwhile, feels Burgess was “born to play” rugby league.
The former Wigan Warriors boss told ABC in Australia: “I could not be happier to see Sam coming home to the Rabbitohs.
“He had an enormously positive impact on our club, both on and off the field, throughout the five seasons he was here, and to be bringing back one of the game’s most dominant players is fantastic for not only our club, but the game itself.”
“The next chapter is for him to return to the game he was born to play, and we’re over the moon that he is coming home to do that with his Rabbitohs family here at South Sydney.”