Six Nations 2014: Scouting Luther Burrell

Tristan Barclay@@tjbbarclayContributor IFebruary 13, 2014

England's Luther Burrell runs to score a try, during his Six Nations rugby union international match against France, at the Stade de France, in Saint Denis, outside Paris, Saturday, Feb. 1, 2014. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)
Thiabult Camus/Associated Press

Luther Burrell burst onto the England scene a fortnight ago with a try on his debut against France in Paris. But with England stalwarts Brad Barritt and Manu Tuilagi making comebacks from injury, does Burrell have what it takes to keep hold of a starting Test spot?

Here we run the rule over the Northampton centre's prospects as England battle their way through one of the tightest Six Nations in recent years.

What does Burrell bring to the party?

Standing 6'3" tall and tipping the scales at over 17st, Luther Burrell is a monster of a man. His hard-running with the ball in hand for Northampton Saints this season has impressed the England management.

Take his second try for England, scored against Scotland last Saturday. Running a hard, straight line, Burrell received the ball from Danny Care. Greig Laidlaw managed to get a tackle in, but Burrell was too strong and crashed over despite the Scotland captain's attentions.

Burrell has a knack for breaking the first tackle. This means he can bring team-mates into the game by occupying more than one defender. While opponents gather to take him down, he can offload to secondary runners or provide a platform for quick ball from a ruck.

He's also a proven try-scorer, touching down nine times in 22 starts for Northampton since joining from Sale in 2012. 

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What's his position?

HIGH WYCOMBE, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 21: Luther Burrell of Northampton scores a try which is later disallowed during the Aviva Premiership match between London Wasps and Northampton Saints at Adams Park on December 21, 2013 in High Wycombe, England.  (Photo b
Ben Hoskins/Getty Images

Lancaster has picked Burrell at outside centre for the first two Six Nations fixtures, but Burrell has made the No. 12 shirt his own at Northampton. It's a testament to Burrell's Premiership performances that the England coach is prepared to play him in an unfamiliar position.

Lancaster knows Burrell well. The England coach was heading up the youth academy at Leeds when Burrell joined as a 15-year-old.

LEEDS, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 22:  Luther Burrell of Leeds passes the ball during the Aviva Premiership match between Leeds Carnegie and Sale Sharks at Headingley Carnegie Stadium on October 22, 2010 in Leeds, England.  (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
David Rogers/Getty Images

Instrumental in Burrell's youth development, Lancaster has decided the time is right to bring the 26-year-old into the international set-up.

Northampton backs coach Alex King is convinced Burrell is ready, regardless of which position he plays. He told the Rugby Paper:

In the Six Nations you have five games to define your season and Luther deserves that chance. He has stepped up his level and he is more than ready for international rugby. The technical side of his game has to change at 13, particularly on the defensive side. His attacking play has been superb this season, but for me it is his defence, and more particularly his defensive work rate, that has stood out at Saints.


Burrell and Tuilagi, World Cup partners?

The roadblock in the way of Burrell appearing at No. 12 for England is Billy Twelvetrees. The Gloucester man was backed by Lancaster in last year's autumn internationals and has been given the shirt again for the Six Nations.

But England are without two of their senior centres: Manu Tuilagi and Brad Barritt.

Barritt could struggle to get back into the starting line-up. The Saracens centre brings a committed defensive performance to the England fray but probably lacks an offensive game.

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 21: Manusamoa Tuilagi of Leicester Tigers in acton during the Aviva Premiership match between Leicester Tigers and Newcastle Falcons at Welford Road on September 21, 2013 in Leicester, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Unless he suffers an awful run of games when he returns for Leicester, Tuilagi has to be back in contention for England. He would be a good bet to return at outside centre, if Lancaster can find room for him.

That leaves Twelvetrees and Burrell to contest the No. 12 jersey. 

Twelvetrees brings a kicking game which Burrell lacks, but a midfield of Burrell and Tuilagi would be a fearsome line-up. Lancaster could decide that, when taking on the likes of New Zealand's Ma'a Nonu, it's best to fight fire with fire.

There could be a question mark over Burrell's big-match temperament. He admits to feeling nerves before any game. Ahead of his England debut against France, he told Sky Sports:

It's normally a ritual for me before every game I play in that I tend to be sick so I imagine ahead of this game—the biggest of my life—that I'll be doing the same. Hopefully I can get to the game quite early and get rid of the pre-match nerves.

But Burrell has time on his side ahead of the World Cup. With three Six Nations 2014 fixtures remaining, plus autumn internationals and another Six Nations championship next year, there are plenty of matches for Burrell to get used to the Test arena.