Luther Burrell’s international comeback is gathering pace after England drafted the Northampton centre into their squad bound for Australia.
Former Leeds Carnegie player Burrell replaces Manu Tuilagi among the 32 chosen for the three-Test series against the Wallabies after a torn hamstring ended the injury-ravaged British and Irish Lion’s involvement.
A try-scoring return in the 27-13 victory over Wales at Twickenham on Sunday was Burrell’s first Test since controversially losing out to Sam Burgess in selection for last autumn’s World Cup.
It was a shattering blow for the 28-year-old, who was then overlooked for England’s subsequent march to the Grand Slam due to head coach Eddie Jones’ view that he was “grossly overweight”. Now 8kgs lighter and having impressed Jones with his form at Franklin’s Gardens and bulldozing try against Wales, he has been chosen over Ollie Devoto to replace Tuilagi knowing he has a genuine chance of starting the first Test in Brisbane.
“It’s a great opportunity for Luther, who played really well against Wales. He carried the ball well, defended with aggression and scored an excellent try,” Jones said.
“Luther’s worked hard at his game since January and we’ve seen a significant improvement in his fitness and conditioning as a result. He thoroughly deserves his place on the tour.
“It was a tough selection call. Ollie Devoto has really impressed during his recent time in the England camp. We wish him a successful tour to South Africa with the Saxons.”
Despite being omitted from the initial 32, Burrell could line-up against Australia on Saturday week owing to the all-too familiar uncertainty in England’s midfield.
Jonathan Joseph has been inked in at outside centre, but George Ford’s nightmare afternoon against Wales in which he missed six of his seven shots at goal has placed his spot at fly-half in doubt.
Owen Farrell’s outstanding form as Saracens’ playmaker-in-chief offers a compelling reason for his move from inside centre to 10 at the expense of Ford, creating a vacancy in the 12 jersey.
Tuilagi would have been favourite for promotion but if Farrell is shifted, England’s options have been narrowed to uncapped rugby league convert Ben Te’o, rookie Henry Slade, who was poor in the Aviva Premiership final and plays outside centre for Exeter, and Burrell.
Having seen his World Cup dream ended by the previous regime’s determination to pick Burgess, Burrell could now find himself acting as England’s battering ram against Australia.
Burrell, however, takes no satisfaction from profiting from Tuilagi’s latest injury setback.
“It wasn’t a bitter-sweet moment for me when Manu was ruled out. Manu’s a good mate of mine and a good player,” Burrell said.
“It doesn’t work like that for me, you want your strongest players on the field. He’s a great player, a good mate. We keep on contact and it is unfortunate.”