Sam Burgess ‘did not have the stomach’ to stay and fight at Bath, says former team-mate George Ford
‘Massively disappointed’ England fly-half breaks ranks to criticise code hopper
Sam Burgess’ decision to quit Bath and England to return to rugby league after just one season in the 15-a-side game let down “the lads who would die for this club”, says former team-mate George Ford.
Ford insists captain Stuart Hooper was right to deny Burgess the chance to meet the Bath squad and say a proper farewell before returning to Australia.
Bath Hooper stopped Burgess from leaving the Recreation Ground on his own terms by addressing the players - and gained England fly-half Ford's full support.
Head coach Mike Ford criticised Burgess' return to South Sydney Rabbitohs just 12 months into his three-year Bath deal, claiming the 26-year-old “didn't have the stomach” to stay and fight.
“People have had a go at Stuart for it, but he's the best captain I've worked under,” said George Ford, on Hooper’s decision to shun Burgess.
“Every decision he makes is normally 99 per cent right and we back him every time.
“There's lads who would die for the club - those lads who have come through the academy, and other lads like me who have been here for two or three years and are passionate about it.
“The lads who would die for this club sacrificed a lot for Sam when he came over and committed to him, and put time and effort into making him the player he was at the back end of last year when he was named in that World Cup squad.
“I feel for the lads and back Stuart 100 per cent.”
Burgess wrote in his Daily Mail column he was “disappointed” to leave Bath, but accepted his “heart just isn't in it” as he jetted back to Sydney.
England head coach Stuart Lancaster’s entire tenure could easily fall on his decision to include Burgess in the ill-fated World Cup campaign.
Lancaster's side became the worst-performing host nation in tournament history after failing to progress from the World Cup's group stages.
Burgess' presence eventually became a divisive issue, with Northampton centre Luther Burrell overlooked despite previously earning mainstay status.
Mike Ford insisted he laid bare the size of Bath’s investment to Burgess, from both players and staff.
The former England defence coach admitted he was left frustrated by Burgess' subsequent decision to quit Bath rather than battle to become a first-rate back-row forward.
“All I know is that he didn't have the stomach to see out his contract,” said Mike Ford, who always viewed Burgess as a flanker despite England deploying him at centre.
“For me this was the time to roll his sleeves up and become the player that I thought he could be - and he chose not to.
“You don't know what he was thinking, it wasn't until the final talk I had with him that I felt there was nothing more I could do.
“But I did speak to him about that and about what a fantastic player he could be, and about the investment the club and the players had made in him, and that it was time to repay that. But he chose differently.”
George Ford stood alongside Burgess in England's abortive World Cup battle, but revealed few loyalties in breaking ranks to criticise his former teammate.
“I'm really disappointed, massively disappointed,” said George Ford.
“We believed he could have been a world-class rugby union player, especially in an environment like this.
“Nothing ever gets given to you. Nothing is ever easy. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it.”