Code-hopping star Sam Burgess has announced himself to international rugby union in a big way, with a series of bone-crunching hits and a sin-binning in an eye-catching debut.
Burgess earned his first England cap at Twickenham on Saturday night, starting at inside centre in the 19-14 win over France and immediately set about shoring up a spot in England’s World Cup squad.
The 26-year-old has tried to keep a low profile while he learns the game of rugby union, as he attempts to crack the final 31-man squad.
But if he didn’t already have the attention of England fans, and opposition centres around the globe, he certainly will after a memorable debut.
It took less than a minute for Burgess to show what he is capable of – the former NRL enforcer rushed out of the line and crunched French captain Dmitri Szarzewski in a brutal hit.
The tone was set, and Burgess didn’t let up.
He was busy in defence, piling into tackles with the powerful regularity which earned him the Clive Churchill medal in last year’s NRL grand final while playing for South Sydney, his final match before making the switch to rugby union.
He had the Twickenham crowd on their feet once more when he thumped his opposite, Alexandre Dumoulin, before showing he has something to offer in attack as well.
Touted as little more than a battering ram, Burgess did produce some trademark bullocking runs to crash over the gain line but also showed some swift hands as part of a wraparound play with fellow centre Henry Slade in the build-up to Anthony Watson’s second try.
Burgess has certainly come a long way since his inauspicious debut for the England Saxons, the reserve squad, in January.
On that occasion he was criticised heavily for being out of position, out of sorts and ultimately out of his depth.
The same could certainly not be said of the former Rabbitoh on Saturday night.
Burgess did concede a soft yellow card late in the first half when he naively tackled wily Frenchman Morgan Parra, despite being clearly offside following a quick tap by the halfback.
It is expected Burgess is locked in a battle with Slade for one of the remaining World Cup spots, and the performances of both would’ve surely impressed coach Stuart Lancaster – without making his decision any easier.
All World Cup squads need to be trimmed to their final 31 players by August 31.