Saints star Burrell opens up on England heartache

Luther Burrell missed out playing for England in the recent World Cup
Luther Burrell missed out playing for England in the recent World Cup

Luther Burrell still has the exact time and date burned in his memory.

“He called me in at eight o’clock in the morning, Thursday... August 28, selection D-Day,” Burrell begins as he describes the moment he was left out of Stuart Lancaster’s England’s World Cup squad.

Stuart Lancaster

Stuart Lancaster

“As soon as I walked through the door I knew, I could feel it in the air, I could see it in his face.

“I just kind of sat there in silence, just let him speak and he told me. I just got up and left, trying to hold back my emotion, but I found that very difficult.”

Having been a starting centre during the previous two Six Nations campaigns and having trained with England throughout their preparations for the World Cup on home soil, Burrell was bursting with belief that he could make his mark on the biggest tournament of all.

But then came that morning. That moment he will never forget.

Luther Burrell in action for Saints

Luther Burrell in action for Saints

Bath’s Sam Burgess and Exeter’s Henry Slade had been given the nod ahead of the Saints man.

They had ‘trained the house down’ according to Lancaster, impressing in their one and only Test appearance, in the World Cup warm-up win against a second-string France side.

Burrell, who had played in the following week’s game against a full-on Les Blues team at the Stade de France, found himself falling at the final hurdle.

And just as many onlookers did, he found it all very hard to comprehend.

“It was one of the most disappointing things I’ve ever come across in my life,” says Burrell as he speaks to the media for the first time since that England omission.

“To think back to it now is really tough because it was a tough, tough moment for me - to find out on the day of selection that I wasn’t going to make it.

“It was very, very tough.

“I thought I’d put in a lot of work throughout the summer

“The word loyalty got brought up a lot within that squad and I just felt that him (Lancaster) and the coaching team had invested a lot of time in me and to lose out in the manner I did was very disappointing for me.

“It was obviously a big setback, but you have them, and it’s about how you react.

“I took a lot of time out to reflect on my summer, my previous England form and it’s really driven me to succeed and driven me to get back in that England jersey.

“I’m very patriotic and I feel special every time I put that jersey on so I want that feeling again.

“I knew that there’s no better club for me to be at to really put my hand up and represent my country again.”

As England’s World Cup campaign proceeded to go from bad to worse, with Lancaster’s men becoming the first host nation in history to be eliminated at the pool stages, Burrell slowly rebuilt.

He got stuck in to the pre-season endeavours, shining in wins against Saracens and Wasps, scoring three times during the course of those two matches.

But it was a world away from the buzz of Twickenham, and games against Fiji, Wales and Australia played in front of packed houses at the home of English rugby.

So just how difficult did Burrell find it to focus on friendly matches when he knew the national team were in action on the same weekend?

“I didn’t find it difficult at all because I didn’t want to be anywhere else other than with Northampton at that point,” said Burrell, who has 13 England caps to his name.

“I wanted to be back here, I wanted to be back with the lads, back with the coaches, surrounded by great company.

“The banter was flowing and it’s a great club to be part of.

“I just wanted to get back as soon as possible, get back playing.

“Jim (Mallinder) did give me a bit of time off after the World Cup training camps and as soon as I came back he knew I was driven, knew what he was going to get from me and I’ve really transferred that to the season so far.”

Burrell has been one of Saints’ better players during a sluggish start the the season which came to shuddering conclusion with a slick win at Glasgow Warriors last weekend.

“I’ve got a lot of fire in my belly coming off the back of the summer,” said Huddersfield-born player, who turns 28 early next month.

“It’s not necessarily about proving anything, but it’s really driven me to be successful within this group of players.

“Jim and the coaching staff are fantastic to me and the other lads, and I really love putting that jersey on.

“I’m really driven and my form has been fairly consistent so far this year.”

But one thing Burrell does want to do is repay the support of the Saints fans, many of whom were up in arms about Lancaster’s decision to leave out one of their Franklin’s Gardens favourites.

“That’s probably one of the biggest things for me, one of the most reassuring things,” Burrell said.

“It’s not just the support from the Northampton lads, but from the Northampton fanbase - they’ve been absolutely amazing.

“The amount of people who reached out to me and made the effort to talk to me was very humbling.

“It was very reassuring.

“I just want to do well, put my body on the line for them and push on as a player.

“It’s just going to be very exciting times ahead because we’ve got a great foundation and a great bunch of lads.”

And the excitement grows for Burrell as he sees what is happening at international level.

Burgess headed back to rugby league after his catastrophic conversion to union, while Lancaster resigned, leaving the way clear for Australian Eddie Jones to become England boss.

When the Lancaster news was announced, Burrell merely tweeted two sunshine emojis: the shortest of statements that said more than any words could.

And he is now looking forward to trying to impress new man Jones, who masterminded Japan’s stunning World Cup campaign.

“It is a fresh start,” says Burrell, smiling broadly.

“I don’t really know much about Eddie Jones so it’s going to be interesting to see what he brings.

“It is a fresh start for me and a fresh start for everybody else.

“He’s come out and said he’s going to pick players based on what he sees so the pressure is on now for the lads to perform and put their hands up for that Six Nations slot.

“I don’t want to think too far ahead on that, I’m going to take it game by game and for me I’m in the best environment to put my hand up and push on as an individual and as a team.”

Burrell has been doing that ever since he arrived at Saints.

Now he will hope his obvious talents are appreciated as much outside Northampton as they are in it.