Unsung Barritt central to England's renaissance
LONDON (Reuters) - The likes of Owen Farrell, Chris Ashton and Manu Tuilagi are the headline grabbers but just as vital to England's renaissance under Stuart Lancaster has been the form of no-nonsense centre Brad Barritt.
While Farrell kicked all the points in the 12-6 victory over Ireland on Sunday, South Africa-born Barritt was instrumental in nullifying danger-man Brian O'Driscoll as the former world champions won in Dublin for the first time in 10 years.
Barritt's rising stock meant a fit-again Tuilagi had to make do with a spot on the replacements bench for the Six Nations clash - a decision fully justified by another immaculate performance from the Saracens man.
Putting his body on the line over and over on Sunday, Barritt proved a man for all seasons, taking the hits for the team with a superb display of rugby's less glamorous arts.
"I think as a player you always want to play a key role in the side and for me I like to think that I'm very adaptable," Barritt, still displaying some battle wounds from the weekend's clash, told reporters in London on Tuesday.
"I think I've shown in the last couple of games that when we have the attacking element I can play a big role and when it's tight I can be a calm voice and lead the defence."
Adaptabilty is a key word under Lancaster, as England have collectively shown in wins against the All Blacks, Scotland and Ireland - three contrasting, but equally impressive, wins.
"I'm willing to fulfil the role that's required on the day," Barritt said. "I've played most of my rugby at 12, getting more carries and having more of a role in the attacking game but at 13 you are leading the defence, being that man in the middle, organising. As long as I'm involved I'm a happy man."
On the healthy competition for places in a young England squad, Barritt added: "As a player playing for England there is always competition and that's no different.
"You build the respect of the players around you and grow into the team, it's a huge honour to play for England and it will be like that every game I play."
After a crushing win over Scotland and a gritty effort against Ireland, England are hot favourites to win this year's championship but Barritt said there was no danger of England getting ahead of themselves, especially with unpredictable France on the horizon.
"We are far away from the finished article and France will be resurgent and up for an English scalp," he said.
"We have learned the discipline and composure to win these tight games, they are key elements in that. Winning away in Ireland was a bogey we needed to get off our backs.
"It's given us the confidence to go forward."
England may be on a high but Barritt said the France game was "huge" if the momentum is to continue.
"France are always a hugely dangerous side. They are littered with great players," Barritt, who made his England debut against Scotland in last year's Six Nations, said.
"It's a huge game for England not just in the Six Nations but in terms of our momentum going forward. We are under no illusions that France will want to make a statement."
(Reporting by Martyn Herman, Editing by Tom Pilcher)
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