Louise Taylor talks to the England women's rugby union captain as the squad begin a tour of New Zealand
A CHILDHOOD punctuated by plies and demi-plies perfected at the barre of her mother's ballet school has accelerated the adult sporting career of Britain's premier female rugby union player.
Acknowledged as the world's best No 8, Gill Burns is England's captain and highest try-scoring forward. A Formby-based PE teacher, she is also a qualified dancing instructor boasting diplomas in ballet, tap and modern.
"Ballet has improved the rugby because it involves a lot of elevation, enabling me to jump so much further at lineouts," she explained. "It helps with co-ordination and technique too."
The England ensemble Burns is captaining on this month's tour of New Zealand are global champions and she admits being unable to envisage an existence beyond next May's World Cup defence in Holland.
That target now ranks as "my main focus in life" but things were vastly different 10 years ago when the then 23-year-old was persuaded to "give rugby a go". Cynical curiosity turned to addiction and Burns took just 12 months to metamorphose from novice to England debutant.
"My first international was against Sweden at my club, Waterloo and, and in the bar afterwards, a man admitted coming to see 'tits and bums' but, after five minutes, realised he was watching 'a bloody good' game of rugger."
Though strident chauvinism is in recession, she is still aware of discreetly muttered disapproval: "You get some funny comments about women's bodies not being built for contact. There are big impact tackles but no fisticuffs; women haven't got the same macho egos."
Men and women do share similar competitive instincts and Burns is also a UK-ranked shot-putter; although oval-ball commitments dictate that time devoted to athletics is severely curtailed.
Ditto household spending. Playing rugby costs internationals "around Pounds 3,000 a year", determining that England's captain is consequently unable to replace her E-reg Ford Orion which displays 170,000 miles on the clock.
Small wonder that she muses: "It would be great to have a sponsor who would buy us a few train tickets." Instead England are duly grateful to Berlei, providers of sports bras, and Puma, boot suppliers.
A little limelight would be welcome though. As Burns said: "I'll always remember stopping at a service station on the way back from the last World Cup in Edinburgh. The final had been on Grandstand and some men came up and said they'd enjoyed watching. It was nice to be recognised."
What a shame reactionary sponsors and cautious television producers are not disposed to help make it regular.
Copyright (C) The Sunday Times, 1997
Taylor, Louise. "Burns in step and on song; Rugby Union." Sunday Times [London, England] 3 Aug. 1997