The Burns family have an embarrassment of riches to choose from in the Fly-Half position
Freddie Burns has been one of English Rugby’s hot properties over the last few years. His seven year spell with Gloucester saw him rack up 127 appearances and score 1,016 points for the Cherry & Whites, which helped him become one of the front-runners for the number 10 jersey during Stuart Lancaster’s tenure at the helm.
His switch to Leicester Tigers in 2014 for the ‘14/’15 season saw his form dip somewhat – the pressure of ensuring Leicester’s rich recent history of Premiership dominance continued maybe affecting his game – but he is still considered to be one of the most creative outside halves in the Aviva Premiership and on his day can still be an entertaining proposition for the neutral.
Now, however, he has competition in the ‘best fly-half in the Burns family’ race. Younger brother Billy is back at Gloucester in Freddie’s shirt after a number of years learning his craft out in the National Leagues with Hartbury RFC. This season has seen Billie as first choice for Gloucester ahead of multi-capped Welsh International James Hook and has enjoyed a successful start to the season in a frustrated and under-performing Gloucester side where Burns has been a shining light alongside half-back partner Greg Laidlaw.
Indeed, playing alongside the experienced Scot – who has captained both his club & country – and having Hook to help and compete with, has to be providing him with a wealth of advice and learning which he is putting to good use.
Physically as well as numerically, Freddie is the bigger brother with height and weight on his side, yet neither player is what you would call a robust 10 in say the mould of a Jonny Wilkinson or an Owen Farrell, yet both are true footballers and demonstrate that the need for innate rugby skills, particularly in that strings-pulling position at first five-eighth, is still an asset.
But which is the better player? It still may be too early in Billy’s career to judge that one but it could be said that Billy may be more influential to his team in terms of the way Gloucester typically play than Freddie is to Leicester. The West Country boys have certainly been fond of playing it through the hands in the backs over recent times, utilizing the likes of Simpson-Daniel, Sharples and May etc. The Tigers meanwhile have been known for their all-round power game with strength at the set piece yet both 9-10 combinations are crucial to the transition from the forwards to the back line.
In comparison, Ben Youngs and Freddie Burns are by far and away the more proven pairing with 75 international caps between them to 53 for the Gloucester pair (all exclusively won by Laidlaw) yet the blend of experience and youth may just be the more effective duo as the season progresses.
We have already had a thriller of a match when the brothers came up against each other in Round 1 and Mr & Mrs Burns will be keeping their fingers crossed that they both come away unscathed when the sides meet again in Round 14. Billy and his teammates however, will be out for revenge.