Leinster v Ulster: Billy Burns embracing fly-half battle with Johnny Sexton

Sexton and Burns
Sexton and Burns trained together during Ireland's recent Autumn internationals, during which the latter made his Test debut
Pro14: Leinster v Ulster
Venue: RDS Arena, Dublin Date: Friday, 8 January Kick-off: 19:35 GMT
Coverage: Live commentary on BBC Radio Ulster MW, BBC Radio Foyle and the BBC Sport website

Ulster's Billy Burns says he is relishing the opportunity to go head-to-head with Johnny Sexton in Friday's Pro14 showdown.

Ireland skipper Sexton will lead Leinster as they seek to reel-in undefeated Conference A leaders Ulster at the RDS.

The game will contain a number of match-ups between international team-mates, as Burns sets about further establishing himself as an Ireland regular, having made his debut during the autumn Tests.

At 35, Sexton remains Ireland's incumbent fly-half while Burns is seeking to build on a positive first experience with the international set-up.

"He's been at the top of the game for as long as I can remember," said Burns, who made three appearances during the Test window.

"He's achieved a huge amount and when I was down in camp I tried to learns as much as I could from him.

"[Leinster] are blessed with a number of outstandingly talented out-halves to it'll just be about trying to get the better of them.

"I got to know how those guys play a little bit more from being down in camp but equally so did they with me so it probably balances itself out."

Burns, 26, gave a good account of himself in his first three international appearances and did no harm to his chances of providing chief support to Sexton in the upcoming Six Nations.

With Joey Carbery out and Jack Carty without an international cap since the 2019 World Cup, Burns and Leinster's Ross Byrne are the two most obvious choices behind Sexton for head coach Andy Farrell.

Byrne will also be in action at the RDS on Friday, but will operate from his less familiar position of outside centre.

"It's definitely an opportunity to go against guys who you're fighting with to get into that squad," said Burns.

"I think you'd ask anybody in the provinces, you want to play for Ireland, you want to be in that international squad now so there's no better opportunity in these games to go up against people that you're sort of fighting against for a position."

Added variety in game paying off

Burns has carried his international form back to his province and impressed last weekend as Ulster saw off Munster thanks to an impressive first-half display.

The 26-year-old created a try for Ethan McIlroy with a signature chip-kick, while his willingness to attack the line kept the Munster defence guessing for key moments in the opening half hour.

Since arriving at Ulster before the 2018-19 season, Burns appears to have benefitted from introducing a greater variety to his own game.

"I want teams to look at the way I play and see an all-court game, that's what I'm trying to work on at the moment," he said.

"Anybody in any position is trying to be as unpredictable as they can be, if I can add a couple of strings to my bow whether that be a running game or whatever then that's going to help.

"It's definitely somewhere that I've worked on and the coaches here have pushed me to improve on.

"I've always wanted to take my running game to another level and I think it's just having the confidence to do it at the right time and when it's right for the team to do it as well."

Friday's meeting in Dublin sees Conference A's top two face off, with the winner set to become outright favourite to top the pool and advance to March's final.

Undefeated Ulster have a 10-point lead over the three-in-a-row champions, who have played two games fewer than their provincial rivals.

Top Stories

Also in NI Sport