Luther Burrell’s domestic form eventually made it impossible for Stuart Lancaster to ignore him.
And now that the 26-year-old has broken down the door, Northampton backs coach Alex King insists his protégé deserves long-term backing in the international set-up.
Burrell’s try-scoring Red Rose debut came in Paris yesterday with the No.13 on his back, despite playing the entirety of this season for Saints at inside centre.
And with Manu Tuilagi slated for a return to action at the end of this month and Brad Barritt also back in contention, competition for places in England’s midfield will go from slim to strong in a matter of weeks.
But Burrell has been ‘the outstanding player in the Premiership this season’ according to King and has earned the right to prove his worth for the entirety of this Six Nations.
“Once you have picked this back line you have to give it time to bed in,” said King. “Stuart Lancaster has chosen this team and you have to back it.
“In the Six Nations you have five games to define your season and Luther deserves that chance. He has stepped up his level and he is more than ready for international rugby.
“The technical side of his game has to change at 13, particularly on the defensive side.
“His attacking play has been superb this season, but for me it is his defence, and more particularly his defensive work rate, that has stood out at Saints.
“He is 26, in the prime and form of his life, the outstanding player in the Premiership.”
The road to the top for Burrell has certainly been a circuitous one as spells and Leeds and Sale, mixed in with loans at Otley and Sedgley Park, saw the powerful midfielder fail to make the breakthrough.
“But if at first you don’t succeed…” has always been Burrell’s motto and King, who along with Jim Mallinder have had the Huddersfield lad as a pet project this season, is confident the best is still to come.
“Luther is an inspiration to any young player, he had a tough introduction to the professional game and it did not all come easily,” he added.
“But he is a first-team regular now and has responded to the faith that the coaches have put in him.
“He has worked extremely hard to get to where he is now and others would do well to follow that example.”