Cool-hand Freddie on song for title tilt as he prepares to face Leicester in hostile territory
22:02 GMT, 28 December 2012
Freddie Burns isn’t easily fazed.
He’ll relish calling the shots for Gloucester on Saturday in hostile territory at Welford Road, just as he felt utterly at ease making his England debut against the All Blacks at Twickenham four weeks ago.
The 22-year-old fly half sensation of the season even took it in his stride when he had to follow up that first international appearance with the traditional solo performance for his team-mates on the bus back to the hotel.
No amount of ridicule from the England squad – celebrating an historic triumph over New Zealand – was going to leave Burns flustered, not when he had endured far worse as a teenage tyro on long trips back to the Forest of Dean, while on loan at Cinderford.
Sensation: 22-year-old Gloucester fly half Freddie Burns (right) leads the Premiership in points scored this season
‘I sung American Pie on the bus back to our hotel,’ he said, referring to the aftermath of that epic 38-21 victory on December 1.
‘I thought I would go for an old classic and because all the boys were in a good mood, I got let off lightly. The initiations at Cinderford were far worse. I’d rather sing on that England bus any day than go through that again!’
The precise details are unclear, but that is probably the way it should remain.
‘I spent a year at Cinderford when I was 18,’ he added. ‘At that time we had proper old stalwarts there like Matt Cornwell, Rob Fidler and Andy Deacon, and playing around those guys was a real eye-opener.
Reward: Burns made his England debut in the epic win over New Zealand
'We had some memorable journeys back from places like Tynedale and Redruth, hours and hours on the road, with the old boys in the back row of the bus and everyone having a few beers together.
It was a great experience for me.’ While that was a great experience in his personal development, what happened on his first outing for England was a great experience for the sport in this country.
Burns contributed two late penalties as a second-half replacement, while also showcasing his audacious attacking gifts and the streak of self-belief which serves him so well.
‘The most pleasing thing was that I think I proved that I’m not intimidated by the big stage,’ he said.
‘I wasn’t particularly nervous before the game. I managed to get nine hours’ sleep the night before.
Mercurial: Former All-Black Carlos Spencer (red) was at Gloucester when Burns was still a youngster
'I felt a sense of belonging as soon as I got on the pitch and just wanted to show people that I should be there. I’ve always been naturally confident. I have never really doubted myself.’
As a rising talent who came through the academy at Bath, before switching to Gloucester, Burns took inspiration from a free spirit in the All Black ranks, Carlos Spencer.
The English apprentice was treated to first-hand examples of the wizardry he wished to emulate when the mercurial Kiwi moved to Kingsholm.
‘When I was younger, he was the guy,’ he said.
‘The fact that he ended up at Gloucester was such a bonus and he taught me so much. He was always coming out with skills that were unbelievable.
'I remember one day, he put a tractor tyre on its side against a fence, and was bending banana kicks through it from 25 metres away.
'I wasn’t training, but I was watching the boys outside through a window and when I saw that I thought, “That is ridiculous”.
‘I was lucky enough to spend two years playing behind Carlos and two years behind Nicky Robinson, who is more of a pragmatic 10, so I’ve been able to learn both styles of play.
'I’ve taken bits from both of them and tried to develop my own interpretation.’
Burns has one try, 15 conversions, 41 penalties and a drop goal this season
The arrival last June of another Welshman, Nigel Davies, as director of rugby, has accelerated the development of Burns into the form No 10 in English rugby this season.
He is the top points-scorer and goal-kicker in the Aviva Premiership and has won two Player of the Month awards.
Such was the positive momentum he had generated that after training with the national team, head coach Stuart Lancaster had no doubts about picking him for that daunting debut which worked out so well.
Burns feels that his performances during the current campaign have shown greater ‘maturity’.
The same could be said for Gloucester collectively and after being thrashed 36-3 at Welford Road last season, their rookie conductor is expecting so much more this time, as he prepares to go head-to-head with Toby Flood again.
‘Comparing how we were last season to how we are now is like comparing night and day,’ he said. ‘
We have a real mental edge now and that will stand us in good stead at Leicester, because if we’re not on our game there they could beat us heavily again.
'We have come together so well and I’m confident we can end up in the top four, then challenge for the title.’
That’s the revised club target, but on a personal level Burns hopes to be included in the England squad for the Six Nations.
The trouble is, while striving to be considered the best fly half in the country, he faces a grave threat to his status as the best in his family.
Burns' younger brother Billy, just 18, is a rising star in the Gloucester ranks
His younger brother, 18-year-old Billy Burns, has emerged in the Gloucester first team this season to set the scene for a long-term sibling scrap for one coveted place.
‘Billy is doing well and I’m sure he’ll be putting pressure on me for my shirt sooner rather than later,’ said Freddie.
‘I’ve told him he would make a great full back, but he just comes straight back with, “So would you!”.’
Joking aside, the older brother will surely welcome the competition. It won’t faze him. Aside from long bus journeys to Cinderford, nothing does.