United Rugby Championship

Fly-Half Billy Burns Discusses What It Means To Play For Ulster

Fly-Half Billy Burns Discusses What It Means To Play For Ulster

Ulster Rugby fly-half Billy Burns discusses what it means to play for the Irish province in the United Rugby Championship and Investec Champions Cup.

Jan 23, 2024 by Philip Bendon
Fly-Half Billy Burns Discusses What It Means To Play For Ulster

For Billy Burns, life at No. 10 is a complex mixture of pressure and privilege. 

He has been a top-flight fly-half for more than a decade, first with Gloucester and then, for the last six years, with BKT URC outfit Ulster, while there have been seven Ireland caps along the way. 

It’s the pivotal position, the one in the spotlight more than any other, the one that earns both the most plaudits and the most criticism. 

So, it’s fascinating to hear the 29-year-old Burns talk about how he views the role. 

“It’s hard, but it’s also a massive privilege to be in that position,” he says. “When games go well, you have generally played a pretty decent part in it. Then, when not so well, it’s the other end of the spectrum. But that’s the world we live in. 

“We put a lot of pressure on ourselves as 10s to be the controllers in the team. 

“I love the feeling of going into a game, knowing you have quite a big say in how things go. 

“You sort of marshal the team around the place, especially with the ball. 

“It’s a pressure I love and something I enjoy doing. 

“There are tough times, the times when things don’t go your way and you feel like it’s all caving in on you, but that’s when you’ve just got to be strong. 

“It’s hard to explain to people who haven’t done it. It’s a pressure, but it’s also a massive privilege. I love it.” 

Burns was born, bred and schooled in Bath, going on to join Gloucester as a teenager and play more than 100 games for the Cherry & Whites, while also representing England at U18s and U20s level. 

But then, in 2018, he moved to Ulster and two years later made his Test debut for Ireland, who he qualifies for through his paternal grandfather, Tommy, who was born in Dublin. 

“I never actually met my grandfather because he passed away when my dad was young,” he explains. 

“But my dad made sure that we all knew. I’m not going to say we were huge fans of Ireland when I was really young, it was England. 

“But as you grew up, there were always Ireland shirts and stuff around the house. 

“I played England age group rugby, but I always knew Ireland was a potential avenue I could go down. 

“I think a lot of people think it came as a massive surprise to me, but it didn’t.” 

Burns has now also gone past the century mark for Ulster and it’s clear how much he enjoys life with the Belfast-based province. 

“I’ve loved it here,” he says. 

“It was obviously a huge change at the time. I was living in Cheltenham only an hour down the road from mum and dad and my brothers. 

“But I moved over here with my partner at the time, now my wife, we bought a house and we have settled in really well. We have got a little family of our own, which is cool. My daughter is just over three now. 

“The people have been great. It’s an awesome place to live and a great place to play rugby. 

“It’s also helped me grow up as a person. I moved over here away from family and had to fend for myself a bit, which was great. We have enjoyed it ever since.” 

Burns, who is such an astute tactical fly-half, also is relishing playing in the multi-nation BKT URC.

“I love it, I really do. It’s awesome,” he says. “The addition of the South African teams has brought a whole new dimension to the competition. 

“Those two weeks we get out there are brilliant for us. It’s a different place to go and a different climate. You are away from the norm and can really focus on building relationships. 

“Personally, I enjoy the travel. I enjoy going to Scotland, Wales, Italy, South Africa, wherever it may be, to challenge yourself.

“It’s a great competition, and I am enjoying it. 

“We have still got to go to South Africa in the BKT URC and have a couple of big inter-provincial games coming up. It’s all to play for, and we definitely feel as though we are going in the right direction.” 

Reflecting on his career as a whole, Burns says: “I consider myself very fortunate to have played for two clubs that both have great backing from fans. 

“You go to Gloucester, and it’s the main sports team in the area. It’s a rugby-mad place, and it’s the same here. 

“They both have fans that are so passionate about the team and really get behind you. 

“The atmosphere at Kingsholm and the Kingspan are among the best in rugby. They are both incredible, so I consider myself very lucky.” 

He concludes: “It sounds cheesy, but you come in every day, and you are doing the sport you love with your best mates. 

“We are incredibly privileged. It doesn’t just get handed to you, there’s a lot of hard work goes on behind the scenes, but I am very fortunate to be in the position I am and it’s something I definitely don’t take for granted.”

Credit: Untied Rugby Championship