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Burns is on a mission to get his kicks once again

In control: Billy Burns is relishing Cheetahs challenge
In control: Billy Burns is relishing Cheetahs challenge

By Michael Sadlier

His opening gambit is to dismiss the past as being, well, gone and largely forgotten, so, on that basis, the first question thrown Billy Burns' way is pretty predictable really.

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"Billy, what do you recall from the early period of last season when your conversion snatched a last-gasp high-scoring draw at the Cheetahs?"

In truth, he knew it was coming.

"I just hope it doesn't take us as long this year," he said with a smile at having to immediately put his memory in rewind mode regarding the conversion of Henry Speight's score.

He nailed the kick, which was no 'gimme' with all the pressure that went with it.

"That was tough last year, and it was the first time for me going out and playing at altitude," said Burns.

Which prompts the next issue, namely whether his cross-field kicks - which led to both Craig Gilroy's tries in last weekend's bonus-point opening win over the Ospreys - will be deployed in the thinner air around Bloemfontein.

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"I'll have to figure that one out, won't I?" the 25-year-old replied. "It (altitude) definitely does make a difference with your kicks. You can't really prepare until you're over there, but it won't take long to acclimatise. I'm sure if those kicks are on again we'll definitely take them."

You do wonder if Ulster really will want to be just as fast and loose and might instead go for a more structured game than the one Burns usually likes to play.

But his heads-up style of play certainly did the business when the Ospreys came to Kingspan Stadium, which saw the Bath native secure the man of the match award in Ulster's 38-14 bonus-point victory.

"It was good," he said, but then he quickly switched into a more on-message delivery.

"The focus has moved on. We reviewed the game and there are so many areas where we can improve, and we have an opportunity to do that this weekend against an incredibly tough and flamboyant side like the Cheetahs."

Having Marcell Coetzee included in the travelling squad a month before he was expected to return to fitness, following his ankle injury which ruled him out of the World Cup, is clearly a massive boost for Ulster.

Should he play against the Cheetahs tomorrow, then Ulster may, indeed, decide to play a more destructively physical game to try and tame Ruan Pienaar et al at the Toyota Stadium.

"He (Marcell) has come back in better shape than I've ever seen him and he is also fitter, which is a scary thought," said Burns.

As for his own game, his skip passes and general running of the backline is another weapon in his armoury but, as with any player, there are always the work-ons.

"There are still definitely areas where I can improve, defensive areas where I need to improve, and there are always times where you could manage the game that bit better," he said.

At least the squad being constantly together is, theoretically, a bonus as well.

"This is like a mini-tour, so we can enjoy each other's company and hopefully get two wins and come back a closer squad than when we went out," he added in conclusion.

Sounds like a plan.

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