Sam Burgess in line to face London Irish as Bath deny league links
Sam Burgess will be named in Bath's matchday squad for their Aviva Premiership clash with London Irish on Saturday after head coach Mike Ford insisted the dual-code international would fulfil his contract.
Burgess is thought to be seeking a route back to rugby league with the South Sydney Rabbitohs after growing disillusioned with life in union, but there is little appetite at the Recreation Ground to sanction his departure only one year into his deal.
The 26-year-old was granted a 10-day break in Spain soon after his return from England's dismal World Cup and he resumed training with Bath on Monday amid intense speculation over his future, with Super League champions Leeds stating their interest in signing him.
Ford insists that Burgess has not asked to leave and that he will feature among the 23 selected for the looming trip to the Madejski Stadium.
"Yes we expect Sam to stay. He has got two years left on his contract. Sam will be playing on Saturday. He's cracking on and rolling his sleeves up," Ford said.
Burgess started the loss to Wales and made replacement appearances against Fiji and Australia as England's ill-fated World Cup unravelled spectacularly, ending in failure to progress from the group stage for the first time.
He was used as an inside centre, although he played his best rugby last season at blindside flanker - the position where Bath are adamant that his union future lies.
Upon completion of England 2015, he came off the bench in the Premiership opener against Exeter before Ford decided he was jaded and so gave him time off to gather his thoughts.
"Sam wanted to come in and the plan was for him to be picked on the bench for the first two Premiership games of the season and then start the next two," Ford said.
"He came to training and played the first game, but then he came to training on the Tuesday after and that's when it hit him.
"After the World Cup, it hits people in different ways. Everyone is different and with Sam it was a case of go away, take 10 days off. In that time there's been a lot of speculation.
"Sam's frame of mind since he's come back has been brilliant. He's come in and cracked on and has trained very well for these couple of days.
"We've talked about the future. We talked about this being the time when he makes great strides in rugby union. We couldn't wait for him to come back."
South Sydney face potential competition for Burgess from Super League club Leeds, who say they have contacted Bath over his availability and have expressed a willingness to pay a transfer fee.
"Certainly, we'd be interested if he became available," Rhinos chief executive Gary Hetherington told Press Association Sport.
"Clearly South Sydney would be favourites but if that proves difficult, certainly for 2016, we would be keen and we've made that known to Bath. Sam is aware of that as well.
"We have a watching brief on it, as I would imagine would most Super League clubs.
"I think it would be a terrific boost for the Super League competition if any club could bring him into Super League."
Ford denied any knowledge of their interest.
Bath have suffered successive defeats to Wasps and Harlequins since edging Exeter last month, but Ford insists Burgess' future has not been a distraction.
"The attention has been there since day one. We are immune to it. Sam handles it quite well," Ford said.
"He makes a laugh of it and makes a joke out of himself. It is just something that we have had to get on with really."
Ford is giving each of his World Cup stars time off at different stages over the coming months and is continually rotating his squad early in the season to accommodate a "brutal" schedule that ends with the 2017 British and Irish Lions tour.
The Bath head coach believes the England and Saxons tours to Australia and South Africa next summer should have been axed in light of the demands on players.
"England only played four games in the World Cup but they played three warm up games too and they're in that bubble. It's pressure all the time, training at that intensity every day," Ford said.
"Surely you could have chosen not to go on tour, and then there's a Saxons tour to South Africa as well. So there's around 30 players going to Australia and another 30 going to South Africa. And an Under-20 World Cup.
"That's 90 players on top of the brutality of condensing a Premiership season after a World Cup. There'll be a lot of people injured. No-one's going to get a rest this summer and it will be a case of last man standing."