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'Other days, you're the hero... It's the life of the number 10'

Johnny Sexton and Andy Farrell stressed that Billy Burns didn’t cost Ireland the game in Cardiff.

James Lowe with Billy Burns after the out-half missed touch.
James Lowe with Billy Burns after the out-half missed touch.
Image: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

IF THE GROUND could have swallowed him up, you sense Billy Burns would have happily disappeared in that moment.

Instead, the Ulster out-half sank to his haunches in agony after watching his line kick slip to the wrong side of the corner flag and fly dead instead of landing into touch to give Ireland one final chance from a five-metre maul.

Now, in the wake of a high-profile error, the 26-year-old will have to rebound and ensure it is not a defining moment.

Out-halves tend to take on a greater burden of responsibility than many other players, so the highs are often very high and the lows are sometimes very low. Johnny Sexton, who had been forced off with a head injury, knows all about it and so, he was one of the first to console Burns after Ireland’s 21-16 defeat to Wales in Cardiff.

“I said to him, ‘you’ve got to go for it’ and he did. I went for one as well,” said Sexton, who had missed touch earlier in the game. 

“When you’re chasing a game, you’re eight points down, or as Billy was five points down, you’ve got to put it five metres out. That’s when you score tries. If you put it 10 metres out, even a good maul rarely gets over.

“Other days, you’re the hero when you stick it on the five. It’s the life of the number 10. It comes down to small margins.

“I thought he did very well in the other parts of the game. That’s one moment but there’s plenty through that second half where we could have done better but it’s tough with 14 men.

“As a 10, you have moments when you’re a hero and you have moments when you’re a villain. You put yourself in those moments, that’s the responsibility that you have. If you kick the ball to the 22, that’s worse for me than trying to stick it five metres out and it not coming off. He’ll learn and he’ll go again.”

will-connors-consoles-billy-burns-after-the-game Will Connors with Burns. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Ireland head coach Andy Farrell echoed Sexton’s sentiment in underlining that Burns’ mistake was just one moment in the contest.

“It’s not the reason we lost the game,” said Farrell. “We have all missed touch before. I suppose he will be gutted, obviously, because of the magnitude of the last minute and whether we’ve got a chance to win the game at the death there, but he’ll learn from this.” 

Sexton was replaced by Burns – who had earlier come on as a temporary HIA replacement for Robbie Henshaw – with 10 minutes of the game remaining, having taken an accidental knee to the head.

Speaking on the virtual press conference post-match, Sexton said he had yet to take his immediate head injury assessment but would do so this evening and then again tomorrow.

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“I’m OK now,” said the 35-year-old.

“I obviously got a bang on the head but I feel OK now. I got a bump on the side of the temple but I should hopefully be OK when I go through all the return-to-play protocols and hopefully I’ll be okay to return to training next week.”

Sexton cut an understandably frustrated figure after Ireland came up short at Principality Stadium, very nearly overcoming the first-half red card for Peter O’Mahony.

They led 13-6 at half time but two second-half tries from George North and Louis Rees-Zammit allowed the Welsh to move in front.

“I’m very proud of the way we fought back with 14 men,” said Sexton. “It changes everything in terms of what you’ve planned, all the different set-plays. You’ve got to ad-lib and I’m proud of the way we reacted.

johnny-sexton-leaves-the-field-due-to-an-injury Sexton was forced off injury late in the game. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“To go 13-6 up was some outstanding stuff and it could have even been better. There was a key chance at the start when we crossed, I think Josh and CJ just went into the same hole. Those little moments before the red card, we could have had a lead from there.

“Start of the second-half, we made a couple of unforced errors trying to do the right thing but errors all the same. Both sides made errors, there’s going to be errors in international rugby, you saw that in the games yesterday, that’s the pressure that you put on each other.

“But we made them at key times. 13-6 up, we made two or three to give them the opportunity to get the score but we were still ahead then. We’re still controlling a lot of the game with 14. Some of our discipline at the end, but we have to look whether it’s discipline or whether it’s the interpretation, I’m not sure – we’ll have a closer look.

“I felt we didn’t get any of the 50/50s at the end or through the game, we’ll have to look at those as well.”

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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