Ulster out-half Burns is in line to feature against England this weekend.
Number 10

'I don’t want to be a guy who plays once and then disappears' - Billy Burns

The 26-year-old made his Ireland debut against Wales on Friday night.

BACK IN 2014, Billy Burns was the starting out-half in an England U20 side that won the Junior World Championship, having beaten Ireland in the semi-finals.

Ross Byrne was the out-half for that Irish U20 team but now he and Burns are in direct competition for the Ireland number 10 jersey at senior level after Johnny Sexton was ruled out of Saturday’s Autumn Nations Cup game against England.

Maro Itoje was the captain of that England U20s outfit in 2014 and this weekend, Burns is in line to be on the opposite side against the dynamic second row.

Burns is a senior Ireland international now, having made his debut off the bench last Friday night against Wales.

Qualifying to play through his Cork-born grandfather, Patrick, and was the proud recipient of his first cap – even if it was frustratingly ended after only 36 minutes of action due to a head injury.

He had replaced Johnny Sexton in the first half, with the 35-year-old Ireland captain now ruled out of the English clash with his hamstring injury, meaning Burns is set to feature against the English as long as he completes his return-to-play protocols.

Leinster’s Ross Byrne is, of course, another option for Farrell in the number 10 shirt but Burns is hopeful of getting cap number two.

Playing against his native England at Twickenham would be the latest step in a whirlwind few years that have seen him move from Gloucester to Ulster and now on into the Test game.

“It has been crazy,” said Burns this afternoon. “I always knew I was Irish-qualified through my grandfather and the opportunity came up to go to Ulster, first and foremost. It was just an opportunity I couldn’t turn down.

“I felt it was the best place for me to improve as a rugby player and push on and hopefully play international rugby.

“It’s strange but all the decisions I’ve made to get to this point have come to fruition, I guess, because I managed to get out there at the weekend. But I don’t want to be a guy who plays once and then disappears and just goes away again.

johnny-sexton-is-replaced-by-billy-burns Burns replaced Sexton in the first half on Friday night. Laszlo Geczo / INPHO Laszlo Geczo / INPHO / INPHO

“I want to try to stay in the team and stay in the squad which is going to be unbelievably tough, but hopefully I can get it done.

“It’s been a strange old journey to get here but it’s one that one day I’ll look back on with an immense sense of pride. I’m happy to be here and happy to be trying to put my best foot forward.”

Burns has relatives living in Dublin and explains that his family back over in England are fully onboard as Ireland fans.

“My mum and all that, they were mad for it! They’re huge Irish fans. My dad has always had his Irish jersey on. It will be an interesting one this weekend going in against England.

“Obviously, I have a lot of friends back there, went to school in England and all that. We’ll see where their loyalties lie this weekend.”

There is huge pride in the Burns family at his achievement and the out-half explains that messages from his three older brothers – including England-capped Freddie – were the ones that hit him the hardest in an emotional sense last week.

Freddie is now playing over in Japan but having another professional out-half in the family is obviously very useful for Billy whenever he looks for a debrief on his performances.

He only got 36 minutes on the pitch on Friday night before being forced off injured, with Conor Murray coming on as the makeshift out-half, but Burns was happy enough with how it went.

“It was all a bit of a blur, to be honest. Obviously, emotions were high, it all happened so quickly. I was devastated to go off the way I did but I guess those things happen.

“In the game, there were parts I was pleased with but watching it back and reviewing it with coaches and the other players, there are definitely areas I can improve.

billy-burns Burns is hoping for a first Test start in Twickenham. Billy Stickland / INPHO Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

“All in all, it was OK but I know that if I want to be playing in this team regularly it’s going to have to be a bit better than that. I’m just looking to learn and improve week on week and if I get another opportunity this weekend hopefully I can improve my performances again.”

Burns reports that his return-to-play protocols have gone smoothly so far and it is expected that he will be fit for selection against England.

Whether Ireland boss Andy Farrell opts for the Ulsterman or Byrne in Sexton’s absence will be fascinating, but Burns says all three of them are working hard together.

If he gets his chance this weekend, there will be no conflicted feelings for Burns playing against some familiar faces.

“Not at all. I’m very much here to play for Ireland. My passion is to play for Ireland. I loved representing Ireland at the weekend. There’ll be none of that.

“If I do get the opportunity and everything goes well with the return-to-play, it’s all about getting the win for us. It doesn’t matter whether we’re playing England or New Zealand or whoever. It’s all about getting the result for us.”

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