England coach Stuart Lancaster said it was a “bonus” that Bath’s cross-code star Sam Burgess was set for an earlier than expected rugby union début in his bid to win a place in next year’s World Cup squad.

Burgess was named Thursday on Bath’s bench for their Premiership match against Harlequins on Friday.

The 25-year-old rugby league convert was not expected to make his Bath bow until the end of December, but he has reportedly asked his coaches to be integrated into the squad more quickly.

Burgess has not played since fracturing his cheekbone and eye socket during his final appearance for South Sydney in their 30-6 NRL Grand Final victory over Canterbury Bulldogs on October 5.


“It’s a bonus that he’s starting this early, but it’s a long way to go before we start picking our World Cup squad,” said Lancaster, whose side play Australia at Twickenham on Saturday.

“It will come down to how he plays; the earlier he learns how to play the game, the more he can learn about it,” he added.

“Having worked in the north at Leeds, we’ve had a lot of players come across from league. Some adapted very quickly and others took longer.

“I’m pleased, and I’ll be watching: it will be fascinating to see how he goes.”

Burgess’s return from Australia has been timed with a tilt at England’s World Cup squad in mind.

Lancaster has previously made it clear he sees Burgess’s future, in terms of an England place in the centres, with midfield long a problem area for the Red Rose team.

However, Bath coach Mike Ford, the father of England fly-half George Ford, believes that Burgess will eventually develop into a back-row forward.


“If I am quite honest, I don’t know where I am best suited. Over time, I think that will become clear,” Burgess said recently.

“Nothing is set in stone, and there is no pressure on myself from Mike to do anything. I am just going to get in there, knuckle down, and do my best.”

Bath lost 16-12 at home to Sale last weekend and currently sit in third place in the Premiership, two points below leaders Northampton.