Former teammate Lote Tuqiri believes Sam Burgess has been harshly treated and is hoping the Wallabies don’t feel the backlash in Saturday’s Rugby World Cup blockbuster at Twickenham.
Burgess has been dropped to the England bench for the must-win pool match after being savaged by the British media in the wake of the hosts’ 28-25 loss to Wales.
Tuqiri’s opinion, though, is well qualified and the dual international hopes Burgess doesn’t have the last laugh at Australia’s expense.
Burgess will be taking on the Wallabies on the anniversary weekend that he and Tuqiri starred in South Sydney’s drought-breaking NRL grand final triumph over Canterbury last year.
Tuqiri also featured in an Australia v England World Cup showstopper in his first year after switching codes from league to union when he started on the wing for the Wallabies in the 2003 final in Sydney.
And the 67-Test Wallaby is adamant Burgess should be starting in the latest instalment of England’s great sporting rivalry with Australia.
“He’s been hard done by, 100 per cent. I think it was a mistake Sammy being relegated to the bench,” Tuqiri told AAP on Friday.
“I thought when he came on against Fiji (in England’s tournament opener) he swayed the game his team’s way.
“Last week he was let down by the players who came on late who didn’t close the game out and he’s been hammered by the English press and ex-players.
“But he’s an easy target. It’s a tough one on Sammy.”
England led Fiji 18-8 before scoring two tries after Burgess’s injection with 20 minutes to go in a 35-11 bonus-point win.
After starting Burgess at inside centre against Wales, England led 25-18 before he was replaced by George Ford with 11 minutes remaining in the three-point defeat that has left the tournament hosts’ Cup hopes hanging by a thread.
Tuqiri says it will be intriguing to see how England coach Stuart Lancaster uses the 196cm, 116kg Burgess against Australia, who are starting the 178cm, 85kg Matt Giteau at inside centre.
“It’s going to be interesting,” Tuqiri said.
“Australia play a smart type of game whereas England play a bash-and-barge style and that’s what Sammy’s very good at.”
While the jury is still out on Burgess, Tuqiri believes the 26-year-old has made a strong transition in his first season in the 15-man code.
“I think he’s done really well,” he said.
“I’m not surprised that he’s made it, but I thought he might have played in the back row.
“To make the transition from the forwards (in rugby league) to No.12 is a lot more difficult.
“But we all know he’s an athlete.”