Woodward hits out at English rugby over Burgess's league return

London (AFP) - World Cup-winning coach Clive Woodward has branded English rugby union "arrogant", "embarrassing" and a "laughing stock" after it was confirmed Sam Burgess was returning to rugby league with the South Sydney Rabbitohs.

The Australian club made the announcement on Thursday barely a year after Burgess left the club, having helped the "Bunnies" win the NRL Grand Final, to join Premiership side Bath in a bid to become an England rugby union international.

But after just one season in union and five England caps, including a largely second string role in the hosts' miserable first-round exit at the recent World Cup, the 26-year-old is returning to Australia.

Writing in his Daily Mail column, Woodward, who guided England to World Cup glory in 2003, said: "I said last week that Sam Burgess is not to blame for this mess and I stand by it.

"But with his return to rugby league we've reached one of the all-time lows and most embarrassing points in English rugby history.

"The RFU (England's Rugby Football Union) has spent the last four years congratulating itself on the direction in which we're heading, but the truth is we have marched confidently into a total mess. The review after the 2011 World Cup was a shambles.

"Players and coaches let down by media leaks, good men exposed as scapegoats and lesser men hiding and shirking responsibility. Nothing has changed."

Woodward, a former England centre, added: "We are the laughing stock of not only world rugby but also sport and business. The rest of the world says those involved in English rugby are arrogant. I hate this reputation, but that is exactly what the RFU have been."

- Deafening silence -

As part of the England squad that recently became the first World Cup host nation to exit the tournament in the group stages, Burgess became embroiled in union politics, with coach Stuart Lancaster criticised for what many saw as an overly-rapid promotion.

His brief spell in union has proved embarrassing for both Bath and Lancaster, whose position is under scrutiny in a review into the team's woeful World Cup. Bath picked Burgess as a flanker, while Lancaster controversially deployed him in the back-line at inside centre where he often looked lost.

Reports suggested the Rabbitohs, whose owner is Oscar-winning actor Russell Crowe, paid Aus$1.5 million ($1 million US, £700,000) a year to secure the 26-year-old. Burgess, who had two years left on a three-year deal with Bath, will reunite with brothers George and Thomas at the Rabbitohs until at least the end of the 2018 season.

Bath, who maintained a deafening silence on Thursday as reports emerged of Burgess's return, issued a statement on Friday after insisting the player was going nowhere.

"We hoped that Sam would stay at Bath," said club coach Mike Ford, himself a former rugby league player, said in the statement.

But with Burgess also engaged to an Australian journalist, Ford said the pull of a return 'Down Under' had proved too much.

"He was doing really well in making the switch over from league and, given time, he could've been a great rugby union player. Unfortunately, for personal reasons, he is returning to Australia," Ford added.