Saints star Burrell revelling in England return
Nothing can make up for missing a World Cup on home soil, but what happened at Twickenham last Sunday was at least a cathartic experience for Luther Burrell.
The Saints star was savagely cut from the England squad for last year’s tournament, with Sam Burgess and Henry Slade selected ahead of him by then head coach Stuart Lancaster.
It left Burrell with a big rebuilding job to do as he tried to deal with his surprising omission.
He needed to bounce back, and bounce back he certainly did.
He threw himself back into life at Franklin’s Gardens, enjoying an impressive pre-season before the serious stuff began.
And after a mixed campaign, he was finally handed another England chance last weekend.
Burrell started at 12 against Wales, knowing a positive performance could help him board the plane for this month’s three-Test tour of Australia.
He had already been named in the Saxons squad for the trip to South Africa, but the 28-year-old’s sights were set on heading down under, with injured Leicester centre Manu Tuilai leaving a void that needed filling.
And Burrell, in his first appearance at Twickenham since the World Cup warm-up match against France last August, delivered the display he and those who have backed him wanted.
After England went 10-0 down inside the first 15 minutes, the Saints man showed his awareness and power to brush past Dan Biggar to score a try that breathed new life into his team.
It proved to be exactly the springboard England needed as they proceeded to pick up a comfortable 27-13 win in the Old Mutual Wealth Cup match.
For Burrell, who has now won all six of his England games at Twickenham, it was the perfect way to cap a difficult journey since that World Cup heartache.
And, understandably, he donned a wide smile when speaking to the assembled media after the match.
“For me, it’s been fantastic to get back out there,” Burrell said.
“It’s the home of rugby and I love every moment and opportunity I get to wear that Red Rose.
“We put in a good performance and hopefully that momentum will carry into the tour.
“For us, the game against Wales was no warm-up. They put our their strongest team and we put out the strongest team we had available.
“It was a full Test match and it was a fantastic game.”
And Burrell can now look forward to three more Test matches this month.
Just a day after the win against Wales, he was named as Tuilagi’s replacement for the tour of Australia.
It is the culmination of the hard work and character he has shown at Saints this season.
And he says he never gave up hope that he would represent his country again.
“It’s always a dream to play for England,” said Burrell.
“Before I got my first cap, I never really thought it was going to happen anyway.
“Whenever you get an opportunity to play, you want to do your team-mates and your country proud and work hard for your coaches.
“I loved it and it was a fantastic occasion for me and the team.”
Prior to last Sunday, Burrell’s most recent try for England came in the win against Wales in the Six Nations clash at Twickenham in March, 2014.
He now has 14 caps to his name and will be looking to add to those down under, but he knows competition is fierce.
“The beauty of English rugby at the moment is that, no matter what position you’re in, there’s always someone knocking on the door and keeping you on your toes,” Burrell said.
“Under Eddie’s regime, he’s going to pick the players he thinks are performing best and doing the shirt proud.
“For me, I’ve got to keep working hard, keep grounded and every opportunity I get, I’ve just got to grasp it.”
The game against Wales was Burrell’s first under the stewardship of loquatious Aussie Jones.
And he has been enjoying the direct nature of the new boss’s approach.
“The beauty of Eddie is that he’s a very honest bloke and if you’re not pulling your weight, he’s going to tell you,” Burrell said.
“With me, he’s been in constant contact about my development and it’s brilliant to be back in the fold.
“He’s a fantastic bloke and we want to play at the highest intensity, taking teams to a place they don’t really like.
“As you saw on Sunday, we went behind early doors and our fitness levels came through.
“We dominated that gain line and with the backs and speed we have out wide, we were always going to score tries.”
But Burrell knows facing an Australia side ranked second in the world will be a significant step up.
“It’s going to be a very, very tough challenge,” he said.
“When was the last time England went there and won? We’re under no illusions that it’s going to be a huge challenge, but we’re in a brilliant position.
“We’ve come off the back of the Six Nations and the win on Sunday so we’ve got a bit of momentum behind us and we’re going to have to work hard and play better than we did on Sunday if we’re going to stand a chance of beating them.”
So just how will England go about beating Australia?
“As soon as we get on the front foot, we want to pound that gain line, and that’s what you saw on Sunday,” Burrell said.
“It’s what we call ‘bodyline’ and you’ve got to take collisions. The Wales defence was very aggressive and some of those collisions were massive.
“We go to Australia and with the back row they’ve got, we’re going to take some big collisions.
“It’s a huge intensity game plan that we’ve got in place so we’re going to have to work hard and dig deep to get some victories over there.”