Freddie Burns is ready to take on the role of Maximus, the lead gladiator, as England prepare to tackle Argentina in front of a hostile crowd in Salta.
Burns will start his first Test for England today after spending a year in the national squad behind Owen Farrell and Toby Flood, and he is ready to step up and call the shots.
England coach Stuart Lancaster has shown his squad clips of Argentina’s home games in the Rugby Championship to prepare them for the passionate atmosphere they expect to encounter at the Estadio Padre Ernesto Martearena. “It is that gladiator thing. It is you and the 23 in the squad against a nation now,” Burns said. “It will be a different type of noise over here – it will be more hostile but I like to relish that atmosphere. To be this far away from home, in this environment, with the stadium like it’s going to be, you look around and you have to pull tight with the group around you. It just builds great team spirit.
“I look around the team now and I wouldn’t have anyone else next to me. It is something I am going to try and embrace and enjoy and let my rugby do the talking. I’ve been pulling the strings for two or three years at Gloucester now and that added responsibility is something I try and thrive on. I’ve been fortunate with the way I’ve done it with England. I had that 20-minute cameo against the All Blacks and then I had a start against the Barbarians a couple of weeks ago. Now I’m going into a full-blown Test match and it’s nothing I am too concerned about. I’m hugely excited – it’s a great opportunity for me.”
Burns will try to keep a calm head before kick-off as he concentrates on getting the England game-plan right but he expects the forward pack to fire themselves up by watching the film Gladiator. The Pumas may be missing a host of senior players, who are being rested ahead of the Rugby Championship, but the England pack are steeling themselves for a ferocious challenge. Argentina view the scrum as the seat of their power and England expect them to pile into the breakdown, which is why the turnover specialist Matt Kvesic starts at open-side flanker.
“The forwards will look forward to having a bit of Gladiator and all the guts and stuff but for me it’s more about chilling and making sure the game management side of things is right,” Burns said.
Seen as a maverick fly-half, with the former All Black Carlos Spencer as his idol, that control is the one area of his game that Burns has concentrated on improving over the last 12 months. The 23-year-old still has an eye for the outlandish and he will look to unleash a back division that includes Jonathan Joseph, Billy Twelvetrees, David Strettle and Mike Brown whenever possible. “But it’s a when and where thing,” Burns said. “Game management has been a massive focus for me. People know I like to play that attacking game but I think I’ve got a lot better at steering the team around the park and then playing when it’s on.
“With the team we’ve got, there is an intent to play and if it’s the right time, then we will, but if we have to plod to the corner then we will plod to the corner.”