Freddie Burns (left) and his brother Billy have played against each other in the past
Kariya, a city in the Aichi Prefecture, is about 9,500km and nine time zones away from Twickenham. Currently, though, it houses a special branch of the Billy Burns fan club.
Older brother Freddie, himself a five-cap England international, will be tuning in if the fly-half is picked for Ireland this weekend.
“I’ll be in my apartment,” says the 30-year-old, a new signing for Shokki Shuttles in Japan’s second tier, the Top Challenge League. “It’ll be midnight here but I’ll be up with a couple of cans of Asahi, the local lager. It should be a great occasion.”
Freddie and Billy are part of a charmingly supportive family headed up by parents Donna and Jerry, whose own father hails from Cork.
Another of their brothers, Sam, leads the tally of international appearances at the moment. He represented Cyprus after qualifying for them on residency grounds while deployed on the island with the Royal Air Force.
Billy’s debut for Ireland against Wales last Friday, making it three siblings with three different caps, was discussed in real time via the family WhatsApp group.
“That one started at four in the morning for me,” Freddie says. “I got up, had a bowl of Coco Pops and I actually went for a wee… next thing I hear my phone going ‘ding, ding, ding’. [Johnny] Sexton had pulled up and it was all happening. I sprinted into the living room and was just in time to see him come on.”
A hamstring injury has ruled Sexton out of Saturday’s Autumn Nations Cup fixture. Billy Burns, who replaced him during the 32-9 win over Wales, is likely to play if he passes concussion protocols.
The 26-year-old’s first Test start would represent further vindication of a move to Ulster when Gloucester recruited Danny Cipriani in 2018.
“First international points” so proud of @BillyBurns10 today ❤️ pic.twitter.com/Yfvr6a9Xiy
— Freddie Burns (@FreddieBurns) November 13, 2020
Freddie admires that proactivity. He relocated to Japan last month after feeling himself grow “stale” at Bath as opportunities dried up and, by his own admission, “my stock dropped considerably”.
The straight-talking playmaker is looking forward to a “refreshing” experience at Shokki that hopefully escapes the Premiership’s “super-strict, structured rugby”.
He admits he may never be able to see past the persona of “little Bill”, even though his brother has captained Ulster and recently became a father to a little girl, Ada.
“He’s very assured and never looks too flustered,” Freddie says of Billy. “I guess, maybe, the difference between us might be that he’s happy to go through games almost unknown.
“He might not necessarily get much recognition for doing anything flash but you’ll look back at his game and he’ll have managed it very well, happy being the puppeteer pulling the strings. He’ll make sure that his team is playing in the right areas of the field and functioning well. That’s the reason he’s got his shot in an international team.”
Six years ago, in 2014, Freddie watched Billy play for England Under-20 in the Junior World Championship final against South Africa in Auckland.
A day before the former faced the All Blacks in his fifth and most recent Test appearance, the latter kicked eight points in a 21-20 win.
View this post on Instagram
Maro Itoje, England Under-20’s victorious captain that night, will be among those hoping to spoil Billy’s weekend. Freddie seems quietly confident, though, and remembers his brother joining Hartpury College as a teenager.
“Every level that Bill has stepped up to, he’s delivered. Before his days at Hartpury, he was just playing local rugby in Bath.
“When he went to the College he had Elllis Genge in his team, he had Stookey [Elliott Stooke] and those lot. He played and was brilliant. You start thinking: ‘F—, he’s good!’
“Then England Under-20 came knocking. He’s playing with Maro Itoje and you’re thinking: ‘This’ll be interesting’. All of a sudden, f—, he’s won a Junior World Cup! Then it was his Gloucester debut and so on.”
Should the progression continue with success at Twickenham, a flat in Kariya will be particularly happy – and pinging with delighted messages.
“Blood is thicker than water,” Freddie finishes. “While my brother’s playing for Ireland and I’m no longer involved with England, I’ll be supporting Ireland and hoping Bill gets a winning start.”