Super Rugby Pacific: Highlanders recruit former England first-five Freddie Burns to fill void

Former England first-five Freddie Burns will travel south this winter to bolster the Highlanders' backline stocks for Super Rugby Pacific.

Burns, 32, debuted for the national team off the bench in a 38-21 win over the All Blacks in 2012 and made five appearances over the next three years.

But while his international career stalled, he has continued to play professional in the Gallagher Premiership, where he kicked the winning drop goal for Leicester Tigers against Saracens in last year's final.

Freddie Burns celebrates his England debut against All Blacks
Freddie Burns celebrates his England debut against All Blacks. Photo credit: Getty Images

"To be fair, it looked like a dead duck flying through the air, as I saw it," Burns reflected afterwards. "At this stage, I don't care how it goes over, as long as it goes over.

"It went through the middle - that's all that matters.

"In my career, I've always gone for the chip and chase, so I was going to chip-and-chase it. I was under pressure, but I managed to squeeze it over."

Burns' other moment of fame - or infamy - came in 2018, when Burns missed a potential gamewinning penalty from in front of the posts for Bath against Toulouse, then had a chance for redemption, but celebrated too long before forcing the ball for a try and was stripped by defender Maxime Medard.

"As a young lad, I grew up watching Super Rugby in the early hours of morning," said Burns. "To have the opportunity to represent such a prestigious club as the Highlanders in the 2023 Super Rugby Pacific season is a huge honour.

"I look forward to getting started and adding to the group, both on and off the field."

His addition to the Highlanders roster will immediately help fill a void created when one-test All Black Josh Ioane moved to the Chiefs last season. Then-coach Tony Brown utilised Mitch Hunt and Marty Banks as his specialist first-fives, before handing wing/fullback Sam Gilbert the No.10 jersey. 

Gilbert was red-carded for a horror cleanout on Waratahs captain Michael Hooper and missed the final five weeks of the 2022 season on suspension.

"Having a player of Freddie’s calibre available to us in such a crucial position is a real boost for the squad," says new coach Clarke Dermody. "Last year, we were exposed at 10, due to a run of injuries, and while we covered the situation, we were asking a lot of Sam Gilbert and Vili Koroi who are not regular starting first-fives.

"Freddie’s arrival will provide us with that extra insurance against that scenario playing out again in 2023."