Ireland have been dealt a major blow after Johnny Sexton was ruled out of Saturday’s match against England with a hamstring injury but Billy Burns says there will be no split loyalties if he gets the nod at fly-half against the country he used to represent.
Burns, 26, was a Junior World Cup winner with England in 2014 – alongside Maro Itoje and Charlie Ewels – kicking the decisive points in the final against South Africa. He qualifies for Ireland through a grandfather and after making the switch from Gloucester to Ulster in 2018, made his senior Test debut for Andy Farrell’s side off the bench in last Friday’s 32-9 win over Wales.
With Sexton’s absent James Ryan is likely to captain Ireland – who are also without Robbie Henshaw due to an abductor strain – with Burns firmly in the frame for a first international start at Twickenham, provided he comes through the head-injury assessment protocols. Burns’s older brother, Freddie, won five England caps between 2012-14 but Billy is adamant there will be no conflict of emotions if he is selected.
“I won’t feel conflicted at all. I am very much here to play for Ireland. My passion is to play for Ireland,” he said. “I loved representing Ireland on the weekend, so there will be none of that. It doesn’t matter whether we are playing England, New Zealand or whoever, it’s all about getting the result for us.
“If I can tick all of the boxes in the return-to-play protocol, which I am travelling along well with at the moment, then hopefully I am in the conversation, for sure. If I get that opportunity, it will be great to pull on the shirt again and hopefully contribute to getting a big win over at Twickenham, which is one of the toughest places to go. I don’t want to be in for just one game. I want to try and get back in that squad and play regularly.”
Jack Willis, meanwhile, is also targeting a second cap on Saturday after marking his England debut with a try and a turnover against Georgia. Willis was selected at openside flanker with Sam Underhill omitted from the 23-man squad and Tom Curry and Ben Earl named among the replacements.
With the Premiership starting again on Friday, Eddie Jones will trim his squad on Tuesday meaning those hopeful of featuring against Ireland have had less time to advance their claims. “I’ve got to work incredibly hard to improve all areas of my game if I want to keep competing in this back row,” said Willis. “There’s some pretty special talent in that mix. For everyone in the team, if you don’t continue improving, then you are going to get left behind.”
Ian Botham’s grandson James has received his first call-up for Wales. The 22-year-old has been added for the games against Georgia and England.
The Cardiff Blues flanker, who has represented Wales Under-20s, is the son of Liam, who played professional rugby in both codes.
Johnny McNicholl has also been called up. The New Zealand-born utility player has won four caps for Wales and comes back into the group after a recent injury.