Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Rugby: Burns the man to fire England at first-five

Freddie Burns will be charged with setting the England backs alight at Eden Park. Photo / Getty Images
Freddie Burns will be charged with setting the England backs alight at Eden Park. Photo / Getty Images

Somewhere among the England tour party is Freddie Burns, the five-eighths expected to fill the No10 jersey at the start of the test series with the All Blacks.

Burns knows something about those duties after making his 2012 debut from the bench in England's gripping 38-21 victory against the ABs at Twickenham.

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However, a further couple of tests against the Pumas in Argentina last year have been Burns' lot as injury, form and a change of club contributed to his slide in the selection order.

Owen Farrell and Stephen Myler have gone past him but will not join the squad until next week because of club duties, George Ford needs a shoulder operation and Danny Cipriani is the glossy headline rehab story.

Details about Cipriani's rousing 2008 beginnings with England, his salacious social life, difficulties at the Melbourne Rebels, healing at Sale and selection for this tour have been spicy fare for the fourth estate.

He is only 26 and has reinvented himself in a fascinating comeback with the assistance of Steve Black, who was Jonny Wilkinson's longtime mental backpack.

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Cipriani is absorbing the England playbook as everyone evaluates his future. Burns is a couple of years younger and when he took to Twickenham a few years back he looked to be a capable five-eighths with the temperament for test rugby.

Easy to say, perhaps, when coach Stuart's Lancaster's England were cruising to a celebrated triumph.

In recent months, Lancaster feels Burns has begun to display some of the form which drew him into the national frame in 2012. He is solidly built at 1.84m and 88kg.

His history will see him start at Eden Park.

"Form is temporary," Lancaster said. You can regenerate form and belief in a player if you put them in the right environment."

Burns appealed as a director, the voice England needed to deal with the sight and fury of the start to the three-test series at Eden Park next Saturday.

He needs a great deal of mental massage to prove he is ready to deliver the work he began with England two years ago.

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It is the sort of therapy Steve Hansen and his staff had to perform last year with a number of All Blacks who lost their way at the Highlanders. The coaches believed in those players and rekindled their impact in what was a historic season.

Now they have to start all over again, just like Freddie Burns.

- NZ Herald

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