Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 19 April 2014

Ford eager to get best from Burgess

Head coach Mike Ford admits Bath must avoid mistakes of the past to help Sam Burgess, pictured, convert successfully to rugby union

Rugby union coaches must shoulder the blame for the shortage of successful converts from league, according to Bath boss Mike Ford.

Head coach Ford has vowed Bath will build a game plan around league recruit Sam Burgess, who will cross codes in October from South Sydney Rabbitohs.

High-profile league converts like Andy Farrell, Henry Paul and Iestyn Harris struggled to make the grade in union.

Ford had a big hand in helping Farrell settle first at Saracens, coaching at the London club in March 2005 when the Wigan great arrived, then with England when he became defence coach in May 2006.

Farrell was never able to reproduce his league impact despite featuring in the England squad that reached the World Cup final in 2007.

Ex-Castleford half-back Ford said union coaches have effectively missed the point of how best to help league stars bridge the divide.

Damning himself by association, Ford admitted in the past the pressure has been on the convert to adapt their natural approach to fit into union's confines.

Ford has pledged he will not repeat the mistakes of the past; this time tailoring Bath's approach to get the best out of 25-year-old NRL star Burgess.

"It's never easy to make the transition," said Ford.

"It depends on the person, the player, the character, then the drive, the determination and how intelligent they are.

"If they get that bit right we in turn have to get our part right too.

"Where I think rugby union clubs have got it wrong before is, they have signed someone from league and then tried to take everything that he's got, the reason that they have signed him, and said 'don't do this, don't do this, you can't do this, you can't do that'.

"And that defeats the purpose."

Bath's track record in helping Kyle Eastmond acclimatise to life in a new code helped persuade Burgess to follow suit, claimed Ford.

But the former England defence coach admitted Eastmond remains a work in progress where union is concerned.

Eastmond joined Bath from St Helens in 2011, but has offered greatest impact this season, operating in a playmaking role at centre more aligned with his former league duties.

Ford said Bath were wrong to blood Eastmond on the wing, again falling into that trap of urging the league convert to adapt rather than exploit his most devastating qualities.

Keen to help Eastmond thrive as a midfield playmaker, Ford said: "Kyle's game plan switched a little bit, he was a winger, we played a kick-chase game last year and it didn't suit his skill-set.

"What we've done is sign this kid because of who he was and what he could do, and then completely put him in a position that was foreign to him and a skill-set that didn't suit him.

"That's ridiculous, why buy him?

"So his skill-set is in the middle of the park, going to the line, dictating and creating something, and we have to create a game plan around him, otherwise we shouldn't sign him.

"And that's what we're trying to do with Sam."

Ford said Bath are busy perfecting their blueprint for coaching a league player through the code exchange.

The 48-year-old said by the time Burgess arrives in October the Recreation Ground club will be ready to help him acclimatise without delay.

As sole financiers of Burgess' switch, Bath are not prepared to accept any Rugby Football Union interference in which position their star recruit settles.

Andy Farrell's code switch was beset by club-versus-country battles on where he should play, with Saracens keen to use him at flanker and England intent on employing him in midfield.

Mindful of those past wrangles, Ford has set out Bath's stall good and early, to take full control, without making any early judgement on where Burgess will feature.

"The way Kyle Eastmond's done it recently, George (Ford) is here who has played rugby league, and I'm here with my roots in league too," said Ford.

"So it's being able to come up with a game plan that allows Sam to execute his skills to the greatest effect.

"He could have gone to other clubs, of course he could, but he feels and I feel this is the best place for him to be - with all due respect - not a normal rugby union player, but to be Sam Burgess, and that's the key for me.

"We're trying to do it with Kyle at the moment, working with him and there's still a way to go yet, to help him do what he did in league here.

"And that's why we signed him, so that he can bring all those skill sets and executions.

"So we're pretty keen to keep Sam in an environment and game plan that he's pretty comfortable with."

Latest Sport News

Stats Centre