Star Wallabies fullback Israel Folau has backed under-fire England rookie Sam Burgess to bounce back from a tumultuous World Cup campaign and become a success in the 15-man game.
Burgess has endured a difficult tournament, enjoying memorable moments – such as his strong cameo against Fiji – before indifferent games against Wales and Australia resulted in him being dropped altogether for England’s final pool game against Uruguay on Saturday (Sunday morning AEDT).
The 26-year-old has borne the brunt of criticism directed at England over their failure to escape the “Pool of Death” as they became the first host nation to exit in the pool stages.
Burgess’s position as either a lightning rod for criticism or a beacon of hope was solidified this week when the #BlameBurgess hashtag began appearing on Twitter.
Users sarcastically blamed the 116kg giant for all their woes, from missed trains to burnt toast.
Burgess has been strongly linked to a return to rugby league, the code where he made his name and won the Clive Churchill medal in South Sydney’s drought-breaking premiership win last year.
However, drawing from his own experience as a code-hopping champion who made the switch from NRL and AFL, Folau urged patience when it came to settling in to rugby union.
Burgess has played the game for less than 12 months.
“(Converting to union) was pretty challenging in my first year of playing Super Rugby, but I feel like I managed to pick up the game,” Folau said.
“In terms of Sam, I think he’s a brilliant player and his progress, from my point of view, has been good.
“I don’t listen to any other comments from the outside. I just think Sam is a great athlete who can do really well in the union game (and) I hope he does.
“I wish him all the best going forward and going into the future.”
Folau, meanwhile, admits he is not 100 per cent heading into Saturday’s high-stakes Pool A clash with Wales at Twickenham.
The two-time John Eales medal winner rolled his ankle in the second half of Australia’s impressive win over England last week and had to pass a fitness test on Thursday to convince coaching staff he could play.
“I had a couple of days off during the week just to make sure that everything was alright, and I had a bit of a run around yesterday with the guys and it felt pretty good, so I am very confident going into the game,” he said.
“It’s not 100 per cent. For me, I am confident, otherwise I wouldn’t be strapping on the boots and going out there.
“I am sure every player throughout the tournament gets niggling injuries, and you have got to try to overcome those the best you can.
“I am definitely going into the game tomorrow, and that is the last thing on my mind.”