Saints centre Burrell on the right track for club and country

ON THE RIGHT TRACK - Luther Burrell (Picture: Linda Dawson)
ON THE RIGHT TRACK - Luther Burrell (Picture: Linda Dawson)
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Luther Burrell jokingly asks to be briefed on what questions lie ahead as he sits down for an interview at Saints’ weekly media session.

But after after a few minutes it is clear the big centre doesn’t need any warning, as he takes on inquisitions as though they were opposition players: head on.

Saints’ upcoming game at Worcester, his form and even his appearance – the moustache he is sporting for Movember – are all mentioned.

But it doesn’t take long before the subject of England arises and, more specifically, the recent international series, which Burrell was part of, but didn’t play a part in.

He was in the squad but was unable to make it into the matchday 23 for the games against Australia, Argentina and New Zealand, instead being sent back to Saints for their Premiership and LV= Cup endeavours.

“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed not to have played in the autumn series because when you’re knocking on the door you want to put your hand up and be given that shot,” says Burrell.

“But I can’t really be too disappointed or disheartened because I’m in the picture and it’s a good place.

“I just want to keep my form and it’s more important that I’m playing well here than worrying about England.

“If that opportunity comes then great, but it’s just about playing for Northampton at the moment and keeping that consistent form.”

Burrell’s omission was a surprise to most who have seen him plough through and over Premiership defences this season.

The powerful centre has allied a potent attacking game with defiant defending, showing how much he has improved since joining Saints.

But his rise to prominence wasn’t enough to fully capture the imagination of England boss Stuart Lancaster, who preferred to put Billy Twelvetrees and Joel Tomkins in the centre roles.

That left Burrell facing regular drives back to Northampton from camp as he did his best to come to terms with missing out on the trio of huge autumn Tests.

But having sought advice from Lee Dickson, who endured the same experience during the Six Nations, he managed to remain upbeat.

“With it being my first taste of it, it was quite new to me so I wasn’t too disheartened,” says the 25-year-old, who spent two years in rugby league with Huddersfield Giants before switching codes to join Leeds Carnegie in 2006.

“Obviously having Lee there he did speak to me and said ‘don’t worry about it’ and I always had the game on the weekend to look forward to.

“I was coming back and playing for a great club and playing with my mates again so I wasn’t too disheartened, it was only an hour drive so it wasn’t that bad.

“But, having said that, once you’ve seen the team’s been named and you’re not in it, it is frustrating because you do want to be involved and represent your country.

“But, no, I coped quite well with it.”

That Burrell answers each question honestly and with a smile on his face is a sign of how much he has matured during the past year and a half.

At times last season, when he found himself out of his club team after a whirlwind start that included three tries in his first four appearances, he would find it difficult to hide his frustration.

But Burrell refused to give up, working hard to return to the first team picture.

It paid off as he propelled Saints to the Premiership final, where they lost to Leicester, and to a slick start to the current campaign, with Jim Mallinder’s men winning nine of their first 12 games in all competitions.

Now, though, Burrell knows he must continue to impress as he bids to force his way into Lancaster’s starting plans for the Six Nations.

“Stuart has admitted that I have had a bit of consistency in playing well for my club and that’s important,” said Burrell, who was in the West Indies squad for the IRB World Sevens tournament in Hong Kong in 2009.

“I’ve got no international experience, which in the midfield in the autumn was an area that was lacking.

“He just wants me to keep playing well for Northampton and keep that consistency level high so I can keep putting pressure on the lads who are there now.

“It’s the squad that is going to pull through for England in the Six Nations, the summer and building for that Rugby World Cup in 2015.”

Burrell’s determination to push Lancaster into picking him should act as a warning for his rivals for the centre spots, because the Northampton man is not someone to be messed with.

He wanted to establish himself as a Premiership player when he swapped Sale’s bench for Saints’ starting line-up and to absorb everything Northampton had to offer. He’s done that.

Now he’s focusing on what more he can do to push the boundaries of his own performance and to keep himself on track for the dream of representing his country when they host the Rugby World Cup in less than two years’ time.

“I think I’ve got a lot more to offer,” Burrell says forcefully. “Last time we spoke (before the autumn internationals) I said I’ve got a lot of rugby left in me.

“I’ve come onto the scene quite late, having had frustrating times at previous clubs and not getting the game time in.

“I’m having a good, consistent run now and hopefully I’ve got a lot of games left in me.

“I’m still young, I’m still learning and I’m surrounded by a great bunch of lads and great coaching staff.

“I’ve been speaking to Alan Dickens defensively and Kingy (Saints coach Alex King) on the attacking front and it’s about always developing my game and trying to push that one extra step.”

And if he does that, Burrell could just become an irresistible force, for club and country.