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Dublin: 9°C Sunday 16 May 2021

'I’ve got a massive ambition to play international rugby' - Ulster 10 Burns

The former Gloucester playmaker is focusing on making an impact for his province.

BILLY BURNS HAS several good memories of coming to Ireland for family weddings over the years.

“They were always interesting occasions,” says the new Ulster out-half with a smile.

The 24-year-old qualifies to play for Ireland through his Cork-born grandfather, Patrick, and has lots of family living in Dublin. It’s in Belfast, however, that Burns will pursue his rugby career over the next two years at least.

Billy Burns celebrates on his way to scoring their third try Burns is an exciting attacking out-half. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Ulster needed an out-half and after the IRFU rejected the northern province’s attempt to bring in Springbok Elton Jantjies, everyone was wondering where they would find one. Out of nowhere, Burns’ name popped up.

Not many people in Ireland knew that Burns was Irish-qualified but the former Gloucester man had kept his Irish roots in mind even as he played for England U18s and U20s.

“It was always an avenue that I could go down,” said Burns at an eir Sport event. “I’d spoken to my agent a lot about it from when I originally signed as a 17-year-old with him.

“It sort of came to me about three years ago, after I finished playing U20s. My agent, not reminded me but said to keep your eye open about it.”

So, with Ulster in dire need of another 10 to complement youngsters Johnny McPhillips and Michael Lowry, and with Gloucester having brought in England international Danny Cipriani this summer, Burns found an ideal new match.

He says the IRFU weren’t involved at any stage of negotiating his move to Ulster but Burns’ IQ status brings him onto Joe Schmidt’s radar, of course.

With Ireland’s third out-half spot behind Johnny Sexton and Joey Carbery still up for grabs, Burns is entitled to feel ambitions with a World Cup to come next year. However, publicly he insists that Ulster is the only thing on his mind for now.

“Potentially in the future,” said Burns of the possibility of playing for Ireland. “It’s an exciting prospect. I know I’ve got a lot of work to do before that.

“My focus is obviously on getting in with Ulster and performing well there. Who knows what the future holds. I’ve got a massive ambition to play international rugby. We’ll see what happens.

Billy Burns, Jack Conan, Robin Copeland, and Rory Scannell Billy Burns was speaking at an eir Sport event to announce that its first Pro14 broadcast, Cardiff Blues v Leinster, will be made free-to-air. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“Hopefully me playing well, Ireland might come, it might not come. But all I can do is put Ulster Rugby in a better place, then hopefully it will be there.”

Burns understands that Ulster “have probably underperformed a little bit in the last few years,” and he is keen to play as central a role in their revival as possible this season.

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The fact that new head coach Dan McFarland looks increasingly likely only to arrive in January as the SRU continues to play hardball is not ideal, but Burns stresses that Simon Easterby is doing a good job as stand-in, while Dwayne Peel and Jared Payne have impressed him as coaches.

Burns, who played more than 100 games for Gloucester, is regarded as an exciting attacking player.

The playmaker, whose passing, acceleration and vision are sure to thrill Ulster fans, believes he is developing into a more rounded out-half, however.

“I like to still think I’m a young player, still learning,” said Burns. “It’s one of those that I learnt a lot at Gloucester over time. I was a 20, 21-year-old wanting to run the ball from everywhere and always wanting to be that person that sparked that special play.

“I’ve probably learnt over my time that it’s not about that, it’s about doing that unselfish work for the team. I’m still learning that definitely. By no means would I say I’m the complete player.

“But when I spoke to Dwayne Peel, I felt he was a coach who could help me with that and push me to being a bit more of an all-round player and putting the team first rather than myself which is something that I’m looking forward to doing.”

Burns is eager to link up with scrum-half John Cooney, Ulster’s player of the year last season, and the rest of an exciting backline this season, while the expectation is that new signings such as Marty Moore and Jordi Murphy will add grit up front.

Billy Burns after the game Burns played for Gloucester more than 100 times. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Having looked for advice from a true Ulster legend, David Humphreys – director of rugby at Gloucester – before his move, Burns is confident he has joined the province at a time when he is ready to take his own game to the next level.

“David’s been great to me over the three or four years he’s been at Gloucester. He didn’t coach too much but he knew what I was going through as a young out-half having been there and done it.

“I got a great relationship with him. He’s helped me massively over that time. He was a very firm believer in not taking that x-factor away from me because that is part of who I am and that is why I play rugby. But just rein it back sometimes.

“I’ve got massive respect for David Humphreys. You only have to look around the place at Kingspan and his face is everywhere. He’s a legend over here so yeah, he’s done a lot for me in my career.”

Billy Burns was speaking at the eir Sport announcement that its first broadcast, Cardiff Blues v Leinster, will be made free-to-air to celebrate the channel becoming the new home of rugby in Ireland.

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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