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Luther Burrell buzzing for Gardens swansong

We sat down with former Northampton Saints centre, Luther Burrell, who will make his final appearance on English soil at cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens later this month when the men in Black, Green and Gold lock horns with Barbarian F.C.

Q: Great to see you Luther, how much are you looking forward to playing at cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens again?
LB: I cannot wait. I was down there a couple of weeks ago to watch the Bristol game and it was just amazing going back there. Coming down the motorway, I was very excited – it was like I could do that drive with my eyes closed! It is like home for me, so I am thrilled to be coming back. I can’t lie, when I was watching that game, I was watching with anticipation and a bit of envy because I wanted to be out there myself. I’m going to get that opportunity with the BaaBaas, and what an occasion that’s going to be.

Q: What does it mean to you to be representing the Barbarians?
LB: What a fantastic honour it’s going to be! I remember watching the likes of Jonah Lomu and Carlos Spencer play in that jersey, and the players that have followed. Whether I was to be playing against national teams or club teams, it’s a still a huge honour for me because I get to wear a jersey that’s had some of the best players, if not the best players, in the world wear it before me. I can’t wait and also what comes with it is having a few beers and a bit of craic.

My children have got Barbarians jerseys already – I got a No.12 and 13 because I don’t know what number I’ll be playing in. Hopefully it’s not the No.23 because that’s not going to be good, is it?! And all my friends and family are so excited – I believe I’m the only player from Huddersfield to have done that as well, so that’s another thing I’ll be hopefully able to tick off. It’s almost written in the stars, playing against Northampton as well.

Q: What socks are you going to wear for the game?
LB: I don’t know! I might have to wear a Black, Green and Gold Northampton sock and a Huddersfield rugby union sock, one of each.

Q: Rugby is obviously a serious game these days, but is this a chance for you and the other Barbarians players to enjoy yourselves? 
LB: Exactly, and with a bunch of lads that I’ve not seen for a long time – some of them that I’ve not met. My mate Woody [Tom Wood] is going to be joining me out there, so I can’t wait. Danny Cipriani is another good friend of mine, so it’s going to be interesting to hopefully play alongside him again because the last time I would have lined up with him would have been a 2015 World Cup warm-up game.  

Q; It has been a few months since we’ve seen you on a rugby field, have you missed it? 
LB: Yes! I was at Sale Sharks’ old training ground for a little bit, kicked a ball around, did a bit of fitness, a bit of endurance stuff and just a few drills, and I was like “yeah, I’ve missed this”. That was great because I’ve been kind of just flogging myself in the gym and just running 10ks and 5ks, and so on. Rugby is a pretty hard sport to go out and play on your own! I went out there and kicked the ball around, did some passing and it really reminded me of the things you take for granted because when I was a kid, that’s what I used to do. I just used to go out into a field at the back of my house and kick a rugby ball around for hours, and that’s what it felt like. It was great to take me back into that mental space and I’m honestly so excited to get back into that environment again, especially with all the lads who are going to be playing. It’s going to be class.

Q: You played against Northampton Saints during your time with Newcastle Falcons, what’s it like to face them? 
LB: You have to be so professional in being an athlete – but I can’t lie, it was so difficult for me when I was at Newcastle when I was playing against them, because I had such highs at the Saints and the Club obviously means so much to me. I didn’t really want to leave when I did, and then had to come back to play against some old teammates and a Club that’s been such a huge part of my life. I felt like I was stabbing them in the back! It was difficult, but naturally as an athlete you’ve got to get your head around it. This experience and this opportunity is going to be very different; representing the Barbarians with so many great players, and I’ll say again what an occasion it’s going to be.

Q: You made some great memories during your time with Saints, not least winning the Premiership title in 2013/14. Are you still close with your teammates from then?
LB: Yeah, absolutely – I was actually just talking to Samu Manoa recently, funnily enough. He was saying we need to speak to Shieldsy [Paul Shields] because there’s a WhatsApp group for all the old players and he’s saying we need one for that season where we won the championship, won a European trophy, we need to get an anniversary together and get all the boys back together. I speak to Dyls [Dylan Hartley], obviously he’s over in Dubai. I get in touch with Courtney Lawes every now and again, Harry [Mallinder], Alex Waller. After the game against Bristol, I went for a few quiet beers with a few of the lads.

Q: How do you reflect on what’s happened to you since leaving Saints in 2019, and what’s next for you after playing for the Barbarians? 
LB: To be honest, it’s not gone as I’d hoped! I went into Rugby League [with Warrington Wolves], and ultimately I ended up leaving that contract and went to Newcastle, then had a difficult period up there. I had stuff going on, on and off the field, and that’s taken its toll. Thankfully, things have turned around naturally. There have been highs and lows over the past three years since I left, but I’ve always kept a close eye on Northampton and what’s been going on there. 

I’m going to Japan in December – I’m just in the final negotiation stage of that, waiting on visas. I’m really looking forward to that opportunity as well. It’s great that I’m going to be getting a few games in with the Barbarians, hopefully, in the build-up to me going out there. It’ll probably be six months out there, come back, do some work around the Rugby World Cup, and then go out for a second season in November. Then, who knows, my mind might be saying: “it’s your time, call it a day”. But I am excited to be going out there and that’s the beauty of sport; it gives you some great opportunities to jump into some different environments, and experience a different, diverse culture which could potentially be life-changing.

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