Saints and England centre Luther Burrell has revealed the intervention of his mother Joyce and mentoring offered by Stuart Lancaster prevented him from following a troubled path.
Burrell will start at outside centre in Saturday’s RBS 6 Nations clash with France in a debut that Lancaster admits will give himself “great pride”.
Their relationship dates back 11 years, when Burrell was invited to a trial at the Leeds academy that was overseen by Lancaster - at the insistence of his mum.
“When I was 15 one of my team-mates at Huddersfield managed to get picked up by Leeds’ elite player development scheme,” Burrell said.
“I was pretty unhappy about it so I went home and had a bit of a sulk to my parents.
“My mother said ‘I’m not having this’ and fired an email across to the secretary at Leeds. It got to Stuart, he got back to me and invited me to a trial.
“I had the trial a couple of weeks later and I haven’t looked back since.
“I owe a lot to my parents for driving me around, up and down the country and I owe a lot to my mum for writing that email!”
While Burrell’s ability pointed towards the professional career to come, the former rugby league player had clearly reached a crossroads off the pitch.
“I wouldn’t say I was on the right path as a young lad and Stuart told me ‘you’ve got one shot at this, I’ll be there and I’ll get you through’ and he did,” Burrell said.
“As a young lad, you sometimes get in with the wrong crowd. I saw sport as giving me a different dimension and Stuart brought me in at Leeds and I never looked back from there. It’s been fantastic ever since.
“I owe a lot to him and it’s nice that I can reach this level and work with Stuart again as an England player.”
Lancaster moved on from Leeds, becoming head of elite player development at the Rugby Football Union, and so did Burrell.
An unproductive spell at Sale ensued before the 26-year-old settled at Northampton, where his form as inside centre propelled him into the England reckoning last autumn.
In the injury-enforced absence of Manu Tuilagi, England persevered with Joel Tomkins throughout the QBE Internationals. But, with the Saracen in the treatment room and out of favour, Burrell has stepped straight into the starting XV.
“It’s been a rollercoaster for Luther. He came to me as a really raw but exciting player,” Lancaster said.
“I know his parents really well and how hard they’ve worked to support him.
“He’s played at lots of different clubs and been in lots of different environment and sometimes that makes you really grounded and a very rounded player.
“He’s not had it easy, he’s had to fight his way to the top, but he’s got there and I took great pride in saying to him during the one to one meeting that he’s going to start because we go back a long way.
“It was only when he left Leeds that I stopped coaching him. But we stayed in contact but when he moved from Leeds to Sale and down to Northampton.
“I always tried to help and advise him in the right direction. He’s ended up at a great club who have supported him on and helped him.”
Burrell is an imposing centre, standing 6ft 3in tall and weigh 16st 5lbs, and, while he has added subtlety to his power game, there are still doubts over the wisdom of his move from 12 to 13.
“I’m looking forward to it. Obviously a different challenge. It’s about sticking to my role,” Burrell said.
“I’m not going to do anything different from what I’ve done for my club.
“I’m really confident that I should be able to step in and do a job.”