In conversation with . . . Gill Burns
Gill Burns MBE is a one club player, Waterloo (now Firwood Waterloo) and also captained Lancashire, The North, England & The World XV ... and the Waterloo Vets. She is Lancashire RFU President 2019/20. She found time to talk about her life in rugby.
- At the start of your career you were played a lot of sports but also danced?
My mum was a dance teacher so I was dancing before I could walk. I have always danced but it became apparent at an early age that I wasn’t going to be a ballerina. I still enjoy dancing and only retired from my mum’s dance school in my mid 30s. I was also a dancer whilst I played for England.
- Do you see a link between dance and sport?
Yes, I think that’s why people bounced off me. Dance, and ballet in particular, gave me great core stability. I mean sports science is much better now than it was then so I didn’t understand why I was quite as strong I was. When I first started playing rugby I knew I was powerful but people couldn’t tackle me as I had this strong core from dancing and other sports. It very much helped me in the lineout too, which was my forte. In those days of course there was no lifting it was just about jumping power. So I had power and the ability to push people away and get high up in the air. I used to win lots of lineouts. I definitely think my dancing helped to become a strong and powerful rugby player.
- In many ways you have been a trailblazer for others to follow?
People have often said that, but it is not something that we realised we were doing 30 years ago. I just loved rugby, I wanted to do my best, I organised the matches, spoke to people in different areas, set up things informally because no one else did it for us. We might be now described as trailblazers but back then we just loved the game and wanted to play it, so we organised it.
- What’s your favourite memory from your playing career?
It has to be winning the World Cup in 1994 – you can’t get any better so that is the big stand-out moment. Another memory, I can still remember to this day my first ever rugby match. I can remember moves, picking up the ball at the back of the scrum for the first time in my own half and literally having the thought process I’ve got to get past the people at the side of the scrum. I started to sprint, handing people off and feeling that sensation of pushing somebody back out of the way. I must have made a 30 yard break and when I was eventually tackled I pushed the ball back and realised then as the big girls, front and second rows pushed past in the ruck, why the big girls play in the pack.
I started to understand how people’s jobs differed during the game. I got up off the floor and watched as our centre Sue made an outrageous dummy pass out to the winger, she and I saw the huge gap open up in the defence and she scored under the sticks. Sue had hurt her toe during the game and was our usual goal kicker. She was unable to take the conversion and nobody else wanted the responsibility so I had a go and the ball sailed through the sticks. That was the first of many goal kicks that I enjoyed with my old fashioned toe end kicking style. I even went on to kick goals in a World Cup Final. Still to this day I’ve never seen another woman score a penalty from their own half but those big toe end kicks travelled a long way. I thought this game is brilliant, so many parts to it, much to think about not just do, physically. I just loved that first game against York University.
- So in your career you have been President of a club, entered into the Rugby Hall of fame, a county championship named after you, you have an MBE – that is quite extraordinary
It is. I am honoured to have had a wonderful career. I am privileged to have been physically able to play at the very highest level and rugby has given me life opportunities that I would never have had if I had not played the game. I am very grateful to the game and it has been a tremendous honour. It is lovely to represent Lancashire this year as President and perhaps no one expected a woman to be President of Lancashire County Rugby. Sadly it was a short season but nevertheless it has happened.