Cowan: Burns must rise to challenge
Freddie Burns faces the toughest-possible Test match challenge to prove his World Cup 2015 credentials against New Zealand, according to Jimmy Cowan.
Former All Black and Burns' Gloucester team-mate Cowan believes the Leicester-bound fly-half cannot afford to waste his best chance to move up England's pecking order on Saturday.
Severely depleted England face the All Blacks in the first of three Tests at Auckland's Eden Park this weekend, shorn of all but one of the Aviva Premiership finalists.
Northampton's Lee Dickson is the sole showpiece competitor to make England's match squad, pressed into service after just five days in the country due to Danny Care's shoulder injury.
Cowan believes Burns has all the attributes to challenge George Ford, Stephen Myler and Owen Farrell for a slot in England's World Cup squad - but he has to prove it this weekend.
"You look at Owen and Stephen, how they are playing, then George Ford's recovering from an operation, so he's got his chance now and it's up to him to take it," said 51-cap All Blacks scrum-half Cowan.
"He can let his rugby do the talking, get out on the pitch and go for it.
"Sometimes you only get one chance, and this could be his in all honesty.
""To be fair it is a tough place to go, to play the All Blacks at home.
"I think from his point of view it's a challenge to look forward to.
"And he's got that confidence and that aura about him: that he'll jump at the chance.
"He deserves the chance for all the hard work he has put in, and now I just hope he can show what he's all about."
Cowan has formed a half-back partnership with Burns at Gloucester for the past two years, but both men have departed Kingsholm this summer.
Former Southland and Highlanders scrum-half Cowan is heading back to New Zealand seeking an ITM Cup contract, while Burns will replace Toulouse-bound Toby Flood at Leicester.
Burns' club form dropped dramatically when he agonised over his Leicester move in December, but England head coach Stuart Lancaster has kept faith with the maverick playmaker.
Lancaster has resisted temptation to start Danny Cipriani, after the Sale fly-half forced his first England inclusion in six years.
Cowan backed Lancaster's decision, tipping Burns to succeed at Leicester as well as put in a good account of himself in Auckland this weekend.
"As professional athletes we all go through stages like that in your career, there are always ups and downs," said 32-year-old Cowan.
"I think it's always a testament to quality players that they bounce back, and he's got that trait, you can see it there.
"He's got the chance now to do it in New Zealand, and I just hope he puts the marker down and really pushes his claims.
"He's got the talent; no doubt, you can see that, it's just whether they can get it out of him.
"He's been in good form lately though, and I think he's ready."
Full-strength New Zealand have shown England no mercy with their starting line-up, head coach Steven Hansen keen to start the series in winning ways.
England's shell line-up has left them written off well in advance in most quarters, but 2011 World Cup-winner Cowan does not view the first Test as a foregone conclusion.
"Without that 10-minute blip in the Six Nations against France England would have a Grand Slam," said Cowan.
"They beat New Zealand not so long ago: I know they are missing players for that first Test but they still have a quality line-up.
"I think you'll see three good Test matches and it's going to be a great game this weekend."