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Tuilagi threat won't faze Burrell

Luther Burrell refuses to be distracted by the presence of Manu Tuilagi on England's bench for Saturday's climax to the RBS 6 Nations against Italy.

Restored to full fitness after six months out with a torn pectoral muscle, Tuilagi is poised to make his first Red Rose appearance in a year at the Stadio Olimpico.

In the 22-year-old British and Irish Lion's absence, Burrell has made the outside centre berth his own with three tries in four caps decorating an impressive start to international rugby.

Forging an ever-improving midfield partnership alongside Billy Twelvetrees, he has helped set head coach Stuart Lancaster the conundrum of who to omit when all three players are making compelling arguments for inclusion.

The cross-code arrival of rugby league superstar Sam Burgess in October adds another layer of complexity and for once England are blessed with options in what has been a problem position since 2003.

It is against this backdrop that Burrell must make a statement in the last Test before the June tour to New Zealand.

"Hopefully I can keep playing consistently well for the team. It's not about me and Manu," the 26-year-old said.

"I know when he comes on against Italy he's going to be a very dangerous player and will bring something to the game.

"Manu is a fantastic player but right now it is me and Billy so I have to focus on that. Who knows, I might go off and Manu might come on at 13.

"I'm not really looking too much at that because if I do it is probably going to affect my game. I just want to focus on what's happening at the moment."

Strengthening Burrell's claim to a permanent role in England's midfield is his new-found ability to cover 12 and 13.

Despite having played the majority of his rugby at inside centre, the position he fills at Northampton, his move one place further down the back line for this Six Nations has been an unqualified success.

"It's good that I've managed to develop at 13 because the fact I'm able to play both positions gives the coaches a headache when it comes to selection," Burrell said.

"I've had to learn quickly and obviously from a defensive point of view it's a lot different.

"You have got the quickest guys on the park running down that 13 channel so that transition has not been smooth.

"I have had to do a lot of homework and a lot of graft on the training park. Thankfully it has been working out."

Burrell has already celebrated his debut Test season with the Triple Crown, but that honour could yet be trumped by the Six Nations title with England locked in a three-way shoot-out with Ireland and France.

The outcome of the Championship will almost certainly be decided by points difference with the Irish in pole position ahead of their trip to Paris.

Recent Anglo-Italian duels point to a hard-fought encounter with England prevailing 19-15 in Rome two years ago and 18-11 in the return fixture at Twickenham last season, prompting Burrell to identify winning as the only target.

"Italy are a huge threat to us. It's their own back yard and we are their biggest game, so we have to be mentally clued in for the job in hand," he said.

"It's a big game and it's all about winning. We need to fully back up that emotional win against Wales.

"We are not really focusing on points, we are focusing on performance and getting the victory because ultimately that's what matters.

"We are under no illusion that we might have to score some points, but firstly it's about getting the performance in and the victory."


From Belfast Telegraph