Lancaster: Burgess must prove worth
10:08pm Thursday 6th February 2014 in © Press Association 2014
Stuart Lancaster insists Sam Burgess would have to serve his union apprenticeship before representing England should he cross codes later this year.
Bath are favourites to lure Burgess to the Aviva Premiership in a deal thought to be part funded by the Rugby Football Union, which has denied approaching the 25-year-old.
It is understood that Leicester considered signing the England and Great Britain league international without the RFU's financial assistance, but ultimately balked at the £500,000 transfer fee demanded by his club South Sydney Rabbitohs.
The Tigers' withdrawal from the race has cleared a path for Burgess to join fellow league convert Kyle Eastmond at Bath, where he is likely to be recruited as their salary cap exemption.
Lancaster distanced himself from the transfer by stating he is unaware of a possible move, viewing it as a matter only for the player and his destination club.
But, responding to the suggestion that Burgess would be fast-tracked into the 2015 World Cup squad, Lancaster declared that a code-breaker must first prove themselves worthy of England selection.
"Given the competitiveness of the squad we've got at the moment, any new player coming in would have to earn the right to play - as everyone else has done," Lancaster said.
"They do that by playing high-quality, consistent, top-level Premiership rugby.
"Let's talk about Kyle Eastmond. He was going to have to play well in the Premiership in order to get into the England team.
"That is only right and fair. That is the way it should be done."
While denying England's involvement in the cross-code raid, Lancaster hinted at his likely arrival with the 2019 rather than 2015 World Cup in mind.
"It would be a challenge, big time, for a player to change codes and play in the 2011 World Cup because of the nature of learning the sport and everything else that goes with it," he said.
"But there's a bigger picture about developing a team that goes way beyond 2015 as well."
As a devastating runner with great hands, inside centre is viewed as Burgess' most likely position in union with the technical demands of playing at number eight precluding him from a spot in the back row.
His stamina is evident from the statistic that he played more minutes than any other England forward at last year's World Cup and is cut from a similar cloth to New Zealand's Sonny Bill Williams.
Lancaster met Burgess during a fact finding mission to Australia in August and the former left a positive impression.
"We didn't discuss rugby union. The interest, if there is one, has to come from Sam," Lancaster said.
"He has to want to come to rugby union and there is also the issue that he is under contract.
"I was impressed with him. I was impressed with his character and his leadership. He is a grounded, down to earth northerner as well, which helps!
"It was a brief meeting, a conversation alongside meeting other players. Clearly he is a world class rugby league player."