By Adam Ellis
Billy Burns has shocked Gloucester supporters by signing for PRO14 side Ulster.
The fly-half made his debut for the Cherry and Whites as a 17-year-old and has brought the curtain down on his time at Kingsholm by signing a two-year contract with the province.
He fills the void left by Paddy Jackson early in April for Ulster and becomes the latest Premiership star to move to Ireland to pursue international honours, after Will Addison and Mike Haley confirmed moves earlier this year.
Burns, who represented England at Under-20 level, harbours hopes of playing on the international stage and acted on Ulster’s sudden interest knowing he qualifies for Ireland through a paternal grandparent.
Burns explained to UIster’s official website: “It’s all happened very quickly and I’ve had a lot to consider in a very short space of time.
“I’ve always been very happy at Gloucester and hadn’t even considered leaving to be honest.
“But the interest was there from Ulster and, of course, a chance to pursue my ambitions of playing international rugby. To play at the highest level of the game is something any player wants to do.
“I’m grateful to Gloucester Rugby for agreeing to allow me to move to Ulster. It’s been an amazing ride – highs and lows – but I’ve loved every minute. I’ve made friends for life, too many to mention, but more than anything I’ll miss the supporters and playing at Kingsholm.
“I’ll be back at some point to say goodbye and thank everyone. But for now, it’s an exciting new chapter, one I’m looking forward to.”
The new arrival at the Kingspan Stadium started 24 times for the Premiership side last season, one where a spot in the play-offs looked likely until defeats to Newcastle Falcons, Exeter and Bath scuppered their chances.
The signing of Danny Cipriani meant Burns, in all likelihood, would be limited for game time if he stayed at his boyhood club, but the dismissal of Paddy Jackson by Ulster has led them on a goose chase to find a replacement.
The province had been trying to convince the IRFU to side with them in a deal for second-choice Leinster fly-half Joey Carbery, only for Munster to make their interest clear and a move to Thomond Park completed.
Ulster’s operations director, Bryn Cunningham, shared his joy at adding an experienced fly-half with over 100 senior appearances despite his tender age of 24.
“We’re delighted that Billy has signed with us for the next two seasons,” Cunningham said.
“It has not been an easy process to find someone with the requisite abilities to add real value to our squad for this season, but thankfully we’ve come to an agreement with Gloucester and have been able to bring Billy across.
“Johnny McPhillips has developed brilliantly and Michael Lowry has shown that he’s a serious talent, but it was critical that we had another recognised 10 with a good level of experience, otherwise we simply would’ve been short of numbers in that area. The addition of Billy now gives us an exciting array of young talent to call upon in the coming years.”
By Adam Ellis