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Ulster snap up Irish-qualified Billy Burns

Ulster Rugby have signed Gloucester’s Irish-qualified outhalf Billy Burns on a two-year contract.

Burns made his Gloucester debut as a 17-year-old in an LV= Cup fixture at London Irish in 2012, before making his Aviva Premiership bow against Worcester Warriors in 2014.

The 24-year-old has now made over 100 senior appearances for the Cherry and Whites. He played 29 times last season, including 24 starts.

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Billy, who visited Kingspan Stadium on Monday to finalise the deal, said:

“This is a great opportunity for me to take the next step in my career and I’m very grateful to Gloucester for supporting me in this decision.

“The Ulster squad is brimming with established and developing talent, and it will be exciting for me to challenge myself in a different environment.

“I’m really looking forward to linking up with the squad next week and getting stuck into pre-season training. Hopefully I can show the Ulster supporters what I’m all about and contribute to the team in what is a hugely important season.”

Commenting on the capture, Bryn Cunningham, Ulster’s Operations Director said:

“We’re delighted that Billy has signed with us for the next two seasons. It has not been an easy process to find someone with the requisite abilities to add real value to our squad for this season, but thankfully we’ve come to an agreement with Gloucester and have been able to bring Billy across.

“Johnny McPhillips has developed brilliantly and Michael Lowry has shown that he’s a serious talent, but it was critical that we had another recognised 10 with a good level of experience, otherwise we simply would’ve been short of numbers in that area. The addition of Billy now gives us an exciting array of young talent to call upon in the coming years.

“Billy has an impressive range of skills and has gained a considerable amount of experience for an outhalf of his age. Importantly, being Irish-qualified, we have no doubt that Billy has the potential to represent Ireland in the near future.”

Despite being capped by England at U18 and U20 level, he approached Gloucester in recent days to ask to be released from his contract to join Ulster Rugby and pursue his international ambitions with Ireland.

Gloucester Rugby’s Director of Rugby David Humphreys explained:

“Billy has played a central part in what we’ve been trying to achieve at Gloucester Rugby over the past few seasons. He’s developed through the Academy, into a top quality Premiership fly half who has nevergiven anything less than his absolute best every time he’s played.

“However, he asked to be released from the final year of his contract with the Club to join Ulster and make himself available for selection for Ireland and a place in the 2019 Rugby World Cup squad.

“With that in mind, and with international calibre fly-halves in Danny Cipriani and Owen Williams in the squad this season, we didn’t want to stand in his way and granted Billy’s request.

“While we are disappointed to see Billy leave Gloucester Rugby, he is joining another great Club and we all wish him well in the future.”

And Burns himself confirmed that it had been a difficult decision to leave Gloucester Rugby, the only club he has known to date.

“It’s all happened very quickly and I’ve had a lot to consider in a very short space of time. I’ve always been very happy at Gloucester Rugby and hadn’t even considered leaving to be honest.

“But the interest was there from Ulster and, of course, a chance to pursue my ambitions of playing international rugby. To play at the highest level of the game is something any player wants to do.

“I’m grateful to Gloucester Rugby for agreeing to allow me to move to Ulster. It’s been an amazing ride – highs and lows – but I’ve loved every minute. I’ve made friends for life, too many to mention, but more than anything I’ll miss the supporters and playing at Kingsholm.

“I’ll be back at some point to say goodbye and thank everyone. But for now, it’s an exciting new chapter, one I’m looking forward to.”

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Ulster snap up Irish-qualified Billy Burns