Battling Saints centre Burrell so deserving of his England debut

POINTING THE WAY - Luther Burrell will make his England debut in Paris on Saturday evening (Picture: Linda Dawson)
POINTING THE WAY - Luther Burrell will make his England debut in Paris on Saturday evening (Picture: Linda Dawson)

When Luther Burrell runs out at the Stade de France on Saturday evening, it will be the culmination of years of hard work.

From loan spells at Sedgeley Park and Otley, to the bench at Sale, to the first team at Saints, Burrell’s path to England recognition has been far from smooth.

He has battled nerves - the 26-year-old openly admits he empties the contents of his stomach before every game - and regular setbacks to earn his chance.

He could almost touch an England starting spot during the autumn, but was continually sent back to his club with the words of head coach Stuart Lancaster ringing in his ears.

Keep working, keep playing consistently well and his time would come.

True to his resilient, upbeat character, that is exactly what Burrell did - and Lancaster kept his word.

“I’m really delighted for Luther because he’s someone who’s invested a huge amount of time and sacrifice into his game and he’s got the rewards,” said Saints attack coach Alex King.

“He’s a great example to any young player watching.

“It doesn’t happen straight away for every player. You have to be patient, keep playing well and get some consistency. He’s done that all season.

“Now he’s been given the opportunity to play on the biggest stage.”

And what a stage it is. England will hope to storm the city of romance and break a few French hearts in the Six Nations opener.

Burrell, making his Test debut at outside centre, will be key to combatting the heavy artillery of Mathieu Bastareaud and Wesley Fofana.

But it is a situation that, after overcoming those pre-match nerves, Burrell will undoubtedly thrive on.

After all, he’s used to a challenge.

“It’s just been about work for Luther,” said King, who has helped develop Burrell’s attacking instincts. “He’s someone who has been passionate about taking responsibility for their own career.

“He’s become a real leader in our midfield and the harder you work the more likely you are to get these opportunities.”

Burrell’s barrel-chested build suggests he is designed for playing the power game, but he has also displayed his subtely in Saints colours.

Moments like the clever offload for George North’s try against Leinster in Dublin stand out, but it is at the other end of the pitch where he has impressed most in recent months.

“His biggest asset this year has been his improvement in his defence,” said King.

“He’s worked really well with (Saints defence coach) Alan Dickens, his one on one tackling is fantastic and his reading of the defence is better.”

Now Burrell will look to show just how far he’s come, and what better way than taking on someone like Fofana, a player who oozes class.

King knows all about the French star having worked with him at Clermont Auvergne, and the coach believes Burrell has what it takes to win the midfield battle.

“He’ll be up against Wesley Fofana, who I know well from my Clermont days, so they are two fantastic players and they will get the 80,000 people in the Stade de France really excited,” said former England fly-half King.

“They’ve got slightly contrasting styles: Wesley’s a player with footwork, whereas Luther’s probably a bit more direct in that capacity.

“They’ve both got good distribution skills, but probably the best asset for both of them is their pace.

“They’ll both watch each other pretty closely and neither will want to give the other room to manoeuvre because they’re both players who are dangerous when they’re going forward.

“Luth’s a guy who’s going to attract a lot of attention and I’m sure they’ll be doing their analysis on him, but I’ve got every confidence in him.”

Crucially, Burrell, who once plied his trade for West Indies’ 7s team, also has every confidence in himself.

He’s put buckets of blood and sweat into realising his dream, and you can expect more of the same on Saturday night.