Past allegiances no barrier to Burns' passion for Ireland

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Rugby ball (Getty Images)
Rugby ball (Getty Images)

Billy Burns says he will not have a conflict of emotions if he runs out for Ireland against his native England in Saturday's Autumn Nations Cup match despite playing for their Under-20 side who were crowned world champions in 2014.

The 26-year-old England-born flyhalf could start for his adopted country if he passes the Head Injury Assessment protocols, which he says he is confident he will do.

The Ulster playmaker impressed on his debut when he came on for captain Johnny Sexton after half an hour of the 32-9 victory over Wales last Friday, and with the latter ruled out the starting position is up for grabs.

If Burns does get the nod from head coach Andy Farrell when he names the team on Wednesday he will face some familiar faces like Maro Itoje from the side that beat South Africa 21-20 in the Under-20 world final in 2014.

"I won't feel conflicted at all," said Burns at a press conference on Monday.

"My passion is playing for Ireland.

"I am fully focussed and if I get the opportunity it is all about getting the win.

"It does not matter if it was New Zealand or England facing us."

- 'Strange old journey' -

Burns qualifies through an Irish grandfather although his older brother and fellow fly-half Freddie opted to play for England.

The younger Burns sibling says his six years at Gloucester could give him some insider knowledge on the England players.

"Obviously having played in the Premiership for a good few years it gives me a little bit of a leg up.

"It gives me a little bit of an advantage and I know a few little things others don't.

"But nowadays players are so well prepped on their opponents they are very well informed and also they play against each other much more often than was the case in the past."

Burns, who says he has been "like a bit of a sponge" in camp learning off Sexton and fellow fly-half Ross Byrne, admits it has been a "crazy journey" to being capped by Ireland.

"I played age group with England but I always qualified through my grandfather," he said.

"I had the opportunity (in 2018) to go to Ulster and could not turn it down as I wanted to go and improve as a player and go on to play Test rugby.

"I do not want to be a guy who plays once and disappears.

"I am going to try and stay in the squad.

"It has been a strange old journey to get here but one day I will look back on it with immense pride."

Burns says his parents will both be rooting for him come Saturday, adding his father has "always worn the Irish jersey".

However, he says the most nervous he got last week in the build-up to the Wales game was when he received messages from his siblings and other members of his family.

"Myself and my three older brothers are all pretty tight," he said.

"I had plenty of messages pre the game from them and having largely felt pretty calm it was those that made me feel nervous as I did not want to let them down.

"It was a hugely proud moment for the family."

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