BILLY Burns’ first experience of a West Country derby was as a Bath ball boy – he returns to the Rec this weekend looking to put right Gloucester’s poor recent record against their fierce rivals.

The meeting between the teams on Sunday could have been a first Burns on Burns derby clash with Freddie now back at Bath, but Burns senior is serving a suspension for a dangerous tackle.

As a result, it’s up to Billy to represent the Burns clan at the Rec, and while the rest of the family might be Bath through and through, he is confident that Gloucester can cope with the added spice of the occasion.

“I ball-boyed at Bath when I was a really young lad, I was probably 11,” said Burns, who with fellow Premiership Rugby players from Bath Rugby and Gloucester Rugby was leading a coaching session on behalf of Land Rover at Avon RFC, putting West Country rivalries to one side, in aid of supporting grassroots rugby.

“I remember watching them play down there. Bath won in the last minute of the game, I can’t remember who scored but it was one of those games when I was so close to the pitch and I couldn’t believe how physical it was.

“You could probably get away with a little bit more in terms of the laws, people were coming off for blood replacements left, right and centre, but there was that added bit of bite and the atmosphere was great down there.

“I was probably too young to really appreciate what it meant.

“It’s a massive game, it’s such a great occasion every year, whether it’s at Kingsholm or at the Rec, the buzz about town in the week leading into it, it might sound like cliché but you can genuinely feel it.

“Getting to training you can feel there’s that added bit of excitement. Everyone just wants to go well. In recent times, Bath have had the upper hand on us in terms of results.

“We tasted victory there a couple of years ago away from home, which still stands out as one of the best games I’ve played in. We’re massively excited and keen to turn that record around and get one over Bath.”

The 23-year-old has been first choice at fly-half for Gloucester for a couple of seasons now. While this year has seen added competition with the arrival of Owen Williams, Burns believes he is benefiting from the coaching overhaul at Kingsholm and the arrival of Johann Ackermann.

He added: “I was first choice fly-half for the majority of last year and then a new coach came in so it’s the first time I’ve been playing week in, week out and then changed coaches.

“I’ve probably found it a little tougher than I thought to be fair. We’ve probably gone from one extreme to the other in terms of how we play.

“It’s great and this new way probably suits me a little bit more but it’s taken some time to adjust and I’m still adjusting now.

“But I think that’s part of a new coach coming and getting to know their ways of playing and training. It’s a case of getting out there and enjoying rugby.”