Burgess: I’d have been worth weight, like Ardie
PHIL Burgess is proud to be a Sevens player but he does regret he was never given the chance to showcase his talent at the highest level like Ardie Savea in New Zealand.
Standing at 6ft and weighing 14st 7lb, Burgess was a mobile out-and-out openside leading the Cornish Pirates to the Championship final in 2013 and he looked set for a Premiership move.
Exeter and London Irish got in touch but, as the then Exiles boss Brian Smith pointed out, gaining weight was a must for Burgess.
Reluctant to do so, Burgess joined England Sevens while Savea took Super Rugby by storm with the Hurricanes on his way to becoming an All Black.
“I’m quite small for a forward but it suits the way I play the game,” Burgess told The Rugby Paper. “When I went to Exeter and Irish for chats, the first comment was, ‘oh, you’re not as big as I thought you’d be’.
“I’d have had to change the way I approached the game if I’d put on weight. That’s not something I was prepared to do so I just had to take it on the chin and look elsewhere.
“I really enjoy what I’m doing now and I wouldn’t change it for the world. I’m a much better player now because all my core skills have improved massively.
“When I went to Wellington with England Sevens I visited the Hurricanes a couple of times to see my old Pirates coach, Chris Stirling, who’s performance director there and I love what they’ve done with Ardie Savea at No.7.
“We’re quite similar in the way we play but they haven’t changed him and that’s what I wanted in 15s.
“They let him be his own player rather than shape him into a player he’s not just because he plays in a certain position. And now he is on the brink of taking on the Lions with the All Blacks.”
Using his breakdown skills to great use from hooker in Sevens, Burgess has been instrumental in England’s success as they won the Cape Town and Vancouver tournaments.
With two legs left in Paris and at Twickenham, they look set to finish on the podium of the overall World Series for the first time since 2012.
Burgess added: “We had the same squad going into each of the first six tournaments and that’s why we were successful.
“We had to deal with injuries in Hong Kong and Singapore and bring some youngsters in but they’ve done brilliantly and even if we maybe didn’t play that well, we pulled together to get bronze in Singapore.
“That just shows the great work Simon Amor and his staff have done since he took over in 2013. They’ve invested a lot in the academy and increased the depth of the squad. We now have 25 players to pick form rather than 14 or 15 like it was in the past.
“It’ll be amazing to play France in their home tournament next week but our performances will be our sole focus.
“Sevens is such a fickle game. The aim is to reduce what you leave to chance with constant performance and that shows in the results.
“These last two tournaments are worth as much as the first two so we’ll do our best and hope for the best outcome possible.”
Hand off: Phil Burgess takes on Samoa for England in Hong Kong this season
Mobile: All Black Ardie Savea takes on Australia