Billy Burns has revealed why quitting Gloucester for Ulster was one of the best decisions of his life as he continues to harbour hopes of making Ireland’s World Cup squad.
Gifted No.10 Burns could be forgiven for feeling bitter towards his old club after becoming collateral damage in the deal that saw Danny Cipriani arrive from Wasps last May.
A month later Burns was gone – denied the dream of leading the team he grew up with.
Six months on, however, the 24-year-old says the decision to leave Kingsholm was his alone and insists he has never looked back in his quest to hit the jackpot with Ireland.
With 14 appearances for Ulster and notable Champions Cup victories over Leicester and the Scarlets already under his belt, Burns is delivering for the province in spades.
“Danny Cipriani’s arrival was the catalyst for me leaving Gloucester, but the opportunity came up here and it just felt like the right time to move,” Burns told The Rugby Paper.
“I don’t feel let down by Gloucester at all; it’s sport and ultimately it was my decision to leave.
“It was just about making the right decision for me and where I felt I’d be playing the most rugby. Ulster fitted that bill and I was impressed with the squad they’re building.
“There are a lot of exciting players and it’s also a club with great history that plays at the top level of the game every year. It was a big challenge but I’m getting my teeth into it.”
Burns added: “I owe a lot to Gloucester and learnt so much there. I enjoyed my time under Johan Ackermann and David Humphreys and when I did decide to leave, they wished me well.
“That was a nice touch but I knew I needed this challenge and I don’t feel I’m at a new club anymore. I feel very much at home at Ulster and I’m fully focussed here.
“I’m not one of those guys who doesn’t like playing week-in, week-out and I feel like I’ve really been improving as a player by leading this Ulster team pretty much every week.
“I’m enjoying working with different coaching staff like Dan McFarland, Dwayne Peel and Jared Payne, who’ve helped me massively, and I’m enjoying playing in PRO rugby.
“I love playing for the province and my aim is to keep improving, help push these guys up the league and then hopefully challenge for trophies at the end of the season.”
A by-product of success could see Burns catapulted into Ireland’s World Cup reckoning.
World player-of-the-year Johnny Sexton is nailed on to spearhead Ireland’s challenge in Japan, while Munster’s Joey Carberry and Leinster’s Ross Byrne are in the frame as back-up.
However, injuries could alter the landscape quickly and Burns is ready to pounce.
“I always knew I was Irish-qualified,” he says. “I lived in England, went to school in England and played age group rugby for England, but knowing I had Irish family on my dad’s side meant it was always a route I could go down.
“I spoke with (Ireland head coach) Joe Schmidt and he’s given me a few pointers, so for me at the moment it’s about performing well week-in, week-out for Ulster.
“It’s a slightly different style of rugby from what I’m used to – perhaps a bit more risk-taking than the Premiership – but I know that if I get my house in order and the team performs well, other things could happen off the back of that with Ireland.
“With only four Irish provinces, if you’re playing week-in, week-out you’ve obviously got a chance. I don’t see why it couldn’t happen and it’s a big ambition of mine, but it’s all about getting positive results here first.”
Helping Burns feel at home is the atmosphere at Ulster’s Kingspan Stadium in Ravenhill – an 18,000-capacity cockpit of passion like Kingsholm
Burns said: “It’s awesome. Ulster have a great crowd on any night but especially on European nights when the place just comes alive.”
While Gloucester’s defeat to Exeter means their Champions Cup hopes look slim, back-to-back victories over Scarlets have boosted Ulster’s chances.
“Beating a great side like Scarlets twice was special, but we’ve got big challenges against Racing 92 and Leicester now to qualify,” Burns says.
Burns retains a healthy regard for Kingsholm. He added: “I’m still a massive supporter of Gloucester and it’s quite nice to be in a different league now so I can actually support them.
“It’s great to see them doing well and, who knows, one day I could go back.”
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