O'Driscoll 'challenge' does not faze Burrell
'I'm as ready as I'm ever going to be,' insists England young gun as he prepares to fight for midfield supremacy
Published 19/02/2014 | 02:30
Luther Burrell has already in his young life experienced the genius of Brian O'Driscoll from a variety of angles.
A rarity in this once amateur sport – he is rugby league stronghold Huddersfield's first international in some 67 years – he can still recall the moment when O'Driscoll burst on to the global stage in 2000.
"I was just 12 when he was making his international debut," he muses, once more exposing the gulf in experience between the respective midfields who will clash this weekend.
"I have followed his career since," the Northampton man enthuses from England's lush Pennyhill Park base during a Triple Crown build-up that is breaking records for gushing mutual admiration between both camps.
Last summer, as Burrell was arriving home after enhancing his burgeoning reputation on his country's tour of Argentina, he watched agog as O'Driscoll's status was wholly undermined before the Lions' decisive Test in Australia.
"I was wondering why, like everybody else was," is his still numbed reaction to O'Driscoll's demotion by not only Warren Gatland, but his assistant, the man sitting in an adjoining room, England defence coach Andy Farrell. "And still to this day nobody really knows why. I didn't for one second think that it was deserved. He is a brilliant player on the international scene."
Farrell, politely, resorts to diplomacy when pressed on the story that feverishly rendered soppy sentimentalists of so many last summer.
"It was an experience!" he recalls. "A weird type of week. Not the most difficult, though, because we had three days of down period to see the picture clearly. It was never like that for us, as in one call. There were loads of calls and every one of them had been really tight.
"We knew Drico would react how he did, and that was 100pc professional, positive, team first."
Burrell was intimately reminded of this irrefutable evidence when O'Driscoll's outlandish skill during Leinster's Heineken Cup destruction of Northampton last autumn – remember that audacious flick between the legs – landed the 26-year-old on his posterior.
"How close was I?" he asks with mock peevishness. "Very close. It was me actually who was going in to tackle him, so he did that straight between the legs.
"He's just one of those players who's got that X-factor. He didn't even look where the ball was going and it went straight to hand.
"He's a fantastic player. He's got a lot of flair in his attacking game, he's good over the ball, he can kick well, he's got a good off-loading game.
"Defensively, he may not be the biggest guy but he doesn't miss many tackles. I know and Billy Twelvetrees knows that it's going to be a big challenge for us."
But is he ready for the challenge at this level of Test match intensity?
"Absolutely, I think I'm as ready as I'm ever going to be," he responds eagerly. "I'm working well with the coaches. I'm really looking forward to it and I know it's going to be a huge challenge.
"I'm by no means relaxed, though. I'm already thinking about the game and it's about me trying to calm myself down. Facing such a player focuses the mind. I will be watching his footage very closely and doing my homework, and I know the rest of the squad are doing exactly the same."
While alluding to O'Driscoll's leadership qualities and incomparable work ethic, Farrell understandably backs the man questing an unlikely hat-trick of scoring appearances in his maiden championship.
"The most impressive thing that's happened with Luther is his self-confidence and belief," he says of a man whose penchant for the Leeds nightlife not too long ago hinted at another wayward son of England.
"You're talking of going on to a stage in Paris and being nervous for your first cap obviously – he says he wasn't but he was – then going to Murrayfield and backing up another great performance.
"He's always looked like from day one that he fits and that's a crucial thing in a position where he's not really played that much of as a 13. He's been great.
"Then there's the challenge with Brian but he's told you all that himself. He's played against him a couple of times, he'll know all Brian's qualities but I'm sure he'll back himself in that contest."
Just one of so many intriguing clashes within a context brimming with anticipation.