Six Nations: Luther Burrell not getting carried away despite superb start to England career
By Rob Lancaster - Tweet me: @SkySportsLanny. Last Updated: 14/02/14 11:23am
Luther Burrell: Has seized his chance in England's midfield with both hands
Having scored a try in each of his two appearances so far for England, you would expect Luther Burrell to be the centre of attention right now.
Instead, the performances of the Northampton man have been somewhat overshadowed by talk of those who might be around in the near future to provide further competition for places in Stuart Lancaster's midfield.
"I grew up playing union on a Saturday and league on a Sunday. I wouldn't dream of playing two games in a weekend now!"
Yet whether it be from the potential switching of codes by Sam Burgess or the imminent return from injury of Manu Tuilagi, Burrell appears ready to face the challenge to his place in the England starting XV as if he were attempting to make a break with ball in hand - fully committed and focused on what is in front of him.
"You want to step onto the field and play your best rugby every time you go out there, especially when you get to represent your country," he told Sky Sports in a week when the Six Nations takes a break.
"For me, it's just about keeping my head down, doing the work in the week and making sure I'm comfortable that I've got the knowledge of the opposition and of our game plan. Hopefully it can then all fall into place on the day.
"It's been an emotional period for me representing my country, which is something I've been working towards for a very long time.
"By no stretch, though, am I going to sit back this week and just think that the job is done.
"I'll truly be able to reflect on everything, and have a look back, when the tournament is over. For now, I'm taking each day as it comes."
As speculation grows about Burgess' potential move, there are actually few better people than Burrell to offer career advice to the England rugby league international. Not only does he occupy the same position that Burgess has been tipped to fill, he also knows all about life in union and league.
Born in Huddersfield, Burrell played both codes in his youth. Indeed, he was on a dual-registered contract during his younger days at Leeds (where he was coached by current national team boss Lancaster), leaving him with a choice to make over which path to follow.
Now, as an England international who has crossed the try line against both France and Scotland in this year's Six Nations already, few can suggest he didn't make the correct call.
"I grew up at my school playing rugby league," he explained.
"I had a brief spell with the Rhinos and opted to stick with rugby union. I was actually on a dual contract with Leeds but decided I wanted to play union. Since making that decision I've never really looked back.
"I grew up playing union on a Saturday and league on a Sunday. I wouldn't dream of playing two games in a weekend now! But, as a young lad I was able to do that, which was good for me."
Asked if his background in league had helped his development, he added: "Yeah, definitely.
"Obviously there are different skill aspects. League tends to spend more time on their skill sets, whereas in union it's a broader game and there are different aspects you need to work on.
"But being able to do both at such a young age has helped me out in the long run."
Burrell also believes his switch to play his club rugby at Northampton has been crucial.
After seeming to stagnate at Sale, a move to Franklin's Gardens in 2012 has allowed the Yorkshireman flourish. He is full of praise for director of rugby Jim Mallinder and his coaching staff, not just for their work with him on the training field but, most importantly, for showing faith in his abilities.
"The coaching staff there have made me into the player I am at the moment," Burrell said about Northampton, who mainly use him at inside centre.
"I'm playing with a bit more confidence. I didn't have that at the clubs prior (to Northampton) because I wasn't given the exposure.
"When you've got world-class players around you like I have at Northampton, you can just feed off them. It's been brilliant for me and it's a fantastic club to be at."
Burrell on Saints
"Jim (Mallinder) and the guys at Northampton have worked with me, both on the field and off it, and have taken me in these big games and given me opportunities. I've managed to play well and gain confidence.
"As a young player that's all you want to do. You want to get out there with that confidence behind you.
"When you've got world-class players around you like I have at Northampton, you can just feed off them. It's been brilliant for me and it's a fantastic club to be at. I'm very thankful for what they've done for me."
With his club side Burrell has had the chance to appear in the Heineken Cup, however he admits that playing for England has been another step up, even if he has taken to it like a duck to water.
"It's the intensity and the speed of everything. It's very, very quick," he said about his early international experiences.
"Your reaction time has got to be spot-on, if you get caught napping you get sussed out. You're coming up against the best players in the respective countries and they're very smart.
"You've got to stay in the game for the full 80 minutes - you can't switch off for one second."
He has shown no sign of switching off so far. Next up will be Ireland, and a chance to pit himself against Brian O'Driscoll on his first international start at Twickenham. It is a daunting challenge, but one you would bet Burrell can rise to, because, right now, he's leagues apart wearing 13 for England.
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