England have named Huddersfield-born Luther Burrell as their replacement for the injured Manu Tuilagi in their squad bound for Australia.
Tuilagi was ruled out of the three-Test series against the Wallabies by a torn hamstring and head coach Eddie Jones has tuned to Burrell, a try-scorer in Sunday’s 27-13 victory over Wales, to fill the gap in the 32-man party.
“It’s a great opportunity for Luther, who played really well yesterday. He carried the ball well, defended with aggression and scored an excellent try,” Jones said.
Burrell was competing with Ollie Devoto for the vacancy created when Tuilagi was injured in Leicester’s Aviva Premiership semi-final defeat by Saracens, but had the edge on his Exeter-bound rival after being picked to face Wales.
The 28-year-old inside centre, playing his first Test since being controversially omitted from England’s World Cup squad, picked a sharp line for his first-half try and his strength carried him over the whitewash.
“We want players who are desperate to play for their country and are willing to make the sacrifices needed to succeed at the highest level,” 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 form the initial 32, Burrell now has a genuine chance of starting the first Test in Brisbane 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 shrouded his place 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 Premiership final and plays outside centre for Exeter, and Burrell.
Having been denied a place in last autumn’s World Cup squad on account of the previous regime’s determination to pick Sam Burgess, who then promptly returned to rugby league, Burrell could now find himself acting as England’s battering ram against Australia.
He was overlooked for the RBS 6 Nations by Jones due to being “grossly overweight”, but has shed the excess kilos and is now back in favour.
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,” said Burrell.
“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.”