Burns continues remarkable rise
August 12, 2011
Burns has clearly done enough to impress boss Warren Gatland © Getty Images
Welsh hooker Lloyd Burns is hoping to mark his rapid rise up the ranks with an impressive performance in Saturday's Test against England.
His remarkable story is straight from rugby's amateur era - a period when players worked away from their sport, trained two evenings each week and then turned out for their local club on Saturday afternoons. Burns has not arrived on the Test scene via some state-of-the-art rugby academy where players' every needs are catered for. His emergence is a tale of hard graft and self-motivation.
"It still hasn't sunk in," said the Newport Gwent Dragons hooker, who wins his third cap with a first Wales start against Millennium Stadium visitors England tomorrow. "You have got to keep working towards your dream. Don't give up - keep going for it.
"It would mean everything if I could get into the World Cup squad, although if anyone had said that a year ago I would have laughed it off, to be honest."
Burns, 26, went to school on the edge of Pontypool Park, a once-revered rugby territory where granite-hard Wales forwards like Charlie Faulkner, Bobby Windsor, Graham Price, John Perkins and Terry Cobner ruled the roost. Burns was born in Pontypool and still lives there. He played in the back row for them, then headed to their Gwent neighbours Cross Keys, from where his big break arrived last year.
"I was sub-contracting as a bricklayer and working all over the shop, really. I remember we were working in Bristol just before I finished," he added. "I was playing for Cross Keys and the Dragons had a few injury problems in the front row, so I started going back and fore training with them.
"Then they offered me a two-year contract at the beginning of last season. I thought it was what I wanted to do, so I grabbed it with both hands. When the weather is good, I miss the bricklaying, but it's a much better lifestyle now, to be honest.
"I guess I appreciate it a lot. It keeps you grounded knowing what is out there after rugby. It's pretty tough. I have had a lot of help with my rugby over the years, but it has been self-driven as well."
Burns was drafted into Wales' match day squad for a game against the Barbarians earlier this summer, making his debut off the bench. The build-up, though, was hardly straightforward. He got married the day before the game, drunk squash all day and is still waiting to organise a honeymoon with his new wife Rachel.
"I didn't touch a drop (of alcohol)," Burns recalled. "I stayed on the squash all day and all night, and we are still waiting for the honeymoon. I think Rachel is really pleased for me, although to be honest, I haven't seen a great deal of her recently!
"What I've found in this rugby environment is that you cannot afford to switch off. You are always learning and picking up new things. It was superb running out at Twickenham last weekend and playing in front of a bumper crowd.
"The nerves kicked in while I was warming up, but then you have got to have a quiet word with yourself and try to block out the crowd, although it's hard when there are 80-odd thousand of them."
And Burns' rise to the verge of securing a World Cup place has not escaped his colleagues' attention, those such as Wales and Dragons flanker Dan Lydiate. "To be fair to Lloyd, he has really taken his chance," said Lydiate. "He was given an opportunity by the Dragons and he took it.
"Lloyd wears his heart on his sleeve and always trains to the best of his ability. After a few games for the Dragons he started to turn heads. A lot of the boys had played age-grade rugby with him and I always knew he was a good player.
"It's just that some people develop at different stages."
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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