Relaxed England centre Luther Burrell last night insisted there is no “added pressure” on him as the battle for World Cup midfield spots enters its critical stage.
The Yorkshireman, who started in all five of the Red Rose Six Nations games earlier this year, gets his chance to shine against France in Paris tomorrow night before Stuart Lancaster makes his final selection for the tournament on August 31.
Having impressed in the Six Nations alongside the competition star Jonathan Joseph, Burrell’s berth seemed all but nailed on.
However, newcomers Sam Burgess and Henry Slade made promising debuts in Saturday’s 19-14 win over Les Bleus at Twickenham to suddenly increase competition for places.
Lancaster – who worked with Burrell at Leeds Carnegie – is set to include just four centres in his 31-man squad with Joseph and Brad Barritt certainties, with Burrell, Burgess, Slade and Billy Twelvetrees vying for the other two.
Twelvetrees, on the bench tomorrow, seems the likeliest to miss out but Lancaster likes the physicality former Bradford Bulls rugby league star Burgess brings to the table and the creativity of Slade, who was a stand-out in Saturday’s success.
Burrell, of course, can play both inside and outside centre and possesses brawn as well as brain so his versatility would be an asset in the tournament that kicks-off against Fiji four weeks from now. Some of Lancaster’s pre-match comments have suggested pressure is on the Northampton Saints player.
Asked if he’s felt that, 12-cap Burrell replied: “It’s a strange one really.
“Every game I’ve played for with England, the pressure of performance has been there. “For me, it’s about seeing where I am as a player.
“The last 10 weeks have been fantastic; I’m feeling in great shape and fitter than I’ve ever been.
“It’ll be an interesting match to see where I am physically.
“I am excited about working the combinations again with JJ, George (Ford) and Ben Youngs.
“The pressure is always there and I think when the pressure is on, I react positively to that.
“It’s not so much about sending messages but it’s about performing well for the team, sticking to my role and not doing anything out of character.
“It’ll be the coaches who have to make those tough decisions.”
Burrell, who played 49 games for Carnegie from 2009 until a move to Sale in 2011, is now 27 but a late developer in international football having only made his debut last year.
He did, though, make an instant impression and it is no surprise that he is undaunted by the “mental hurdle” of knowing this squad cut is looming.
“For me, my path, I’ve always had to overcome hurdles,” said the Huddersfield-born centre. “Coming from Leeds, then being out on loan, then Sale and the injuries…
“Then to Northampton and being out of the team and then getting to the Premiership final (2013) and coming short but then winning the next one.
“It’s not been an easy path to get here, but you cherish it.
“I don’t see this as a big hurdle, it’s about performance and seeing how the team is.
“I’m not putting any added pressure on myself.
“It’s about getting out on the field and getting my hands on the ball early and if I can control my game then it will be a headache for the coaches when August 31 comes around.”