The curse of the code-cross

Sunday night and on Sky Sports News the final round-up of the weekend’s sports action continues with the Rugby League round-up with former England captain Jamie Peacock. As Peacock runs through the weekend’s Super League action, it isn’t long before the presenters ask him the inevitable question – What about Sam Burgess?

Will Burgess make the same impact in union?
Will Burgess make the same impact in union?

Sam Burgess is an English rugby league player currently plying his trade in Australia with the South Sydney Rabbitohs Club. A superstar of the sport, Burgess was inspirational in the 2013 Rugby League World Cup semi-final where his near-faultless display took England seconds away from a historic world cup final, before cruelly with the last play of the match New Zealand ran in a superb try to break English hearts. Inevitably the talk after the match was centred around man-of-the match Burgess and his heroic performance. However, that result and  reaction after the match may have been the catalyst behind the biggest decision Burgess has taken in his rugby career? A couple of months later in early 2014, an announcement was made that Burgess had decided to take up a lucrative offer from Bath Rugby Club and come and play rugby union. The news caused much excitement amongst rugby union fans, particularly the English with just 18 months to go before a home world cup kicks off, as another rugby league superstar made the switch over to the 15-man code.

Jason Robinson. Kyle Eastmond. Two players who took the same step as Burgess, but with differing results.

Robinson went on to have success in both codes
Robinson went on to have success in both codes

Robinson, a winner of two Challenge Cups and one Super League title after over three-hundred appearances for Wigan, took the decision to cross-over to rugby union at the age of 26 and sign for Sale Sharks. What followed was quite remarkable as Robinson won his first England cap in February 2001, incredibly only three months after making his rugby union debut. Even more incredibly, Robinson having not even been playing rugby union for a year, was then included in the British and Irish Lions squad for the 2001 tour of Australia. Robinson’s rapid rise to the top continued when he was selected to start the first test against Australia and just minutes in to the first test Robinson, far out on the touchline, took the ball and side-stepped past Aussie full-back Chris Latham scoring one of the greatest Lions tries ever witnessed. Despite scoring another try in the final test, Robinson and the Lions eventually lost the series 2-1. Two years later and Robinson was back in Australia with England, where after a pulsating match in which he scored another try, England defeated Australia to lift the Webb Ellis Trophy for the first time in their history. Known for his devastating burst of pace, Jason Robinson went on to score 28 tries in 51 appearances for England and two tries in five appearances spread over two tours with the British and Irish Lions, firmly cementing his place as a rugby legend.

Eastmond has struggled to adapt since his switch
Eastmond has struggled to adapt since his switch

Like Robinson, Eastmond started out in Rugby league and after bursting on the scene in 2008 for St. Helens at 19 years of age, was soon being compared to the former Wigan star. Eastmond continued his fine form in the 2009 season scoring 8 tries, 30 goals and 7 try assists, as St. Helens reached the Super League Grand Final. Despite losing to the Leeds Rhinos, Eastmond once again impressed scoring all of St. Helens’ 10 points. Called up to the England squad later that year, everything seemed to be falling into place for the young star. However, following another solid campaign in 2010, Eastmond’s career became slightly more complicated. By now Eastmond’s form hadn’t gone unnoticed in the 15-man code. In 2011 rumours started to circulate of a move to rugby union and after a poor start to the season with the fans starting to get on his back, Eastmond soon confirmed he would be making the switch to rugby union joining Bath rugby. Despite claiming to be fully committed to St. Helens for the remainder of his contract, the end couldn’t come soon enough as poor form and disciplinary issues marred the end of his rugby league career. In rugby union, the excitement was building as another star rugby league player joined the ranks. Tipped by many pundits for England honours, there was much anticipation as he prepared for his new career. However two years in and despite winning two caps for England in the summer of 2013, Eastmond has struggled to nail down a first-team place at his preferred position of centre, showing only rare glimpses of his undoubted potential to date. 23 appearances in three years tells its own story and with his England caps coming while many of the first-choice internationals were away on the successful Lions tour of Austalia, Eastmond continues to struggle as he tries to adapt to the demands of rugby union.

As Burgess joins a long list of rugby league stars who have crossed over, he must do so aware that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. Just ask his new teammate!


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