Connacht v Ulster: 'That was the worst changing room I've been in. We let ourselves down'

Burns looks dejected after Ulster's defeat by Connacht at Kingspan Stadium in May
Burns says Ulster have learned from agonising defeats like the URC quarter-final loss to Connacht in May

United Rugby Championship - Connacht v Ulster

Venue: The Sportsground, Galway Date: Saturday, 4 November Kick-off: 19:35 GMT

Coverage: Listen on BBC Sounds, BBC Radio Foyle and BBC Sport website; live text updates and report on BBC Sport website

Ulster fly-half Billy Burns says the "gut-wrenching" pain of last season's United Rugby Championship quarter-final loss to Connacht is driving the squad on as they prepare to renew their inter-provincial rivalry in Galway.

Ulster's 2022-23 season ended in despair as Connacht claimed a 15-10 win in Belfast.

Burns, who made his professional debut for Gloucester 11 years ago and joined Ulster in 2018, said the province's dressing room that night was the worst he has ever been in.

"And rightly so. We let a lot of people down and let ourselves down, but if we can use that to drive us forward this year, we'll be in a pretty good place I think," the 29-year-old said before Ulster's trip to Galway on Saturday.

"It was gut-wrenching to go out the way we did at the back end of last season.

"You spend a lot of time thinking about things you could have done differently. We've learned from games like that over the past few years. It's enabled us to narrow our focus on certain areas of our game where we need to get better.

"The way the weeks have been structured in pre-season, it's felt like we've taken our learnings from games like that and hopefully we'll see the benefits of that when we come into tight games in the future, or knockout games."

Bath-born Burns, who qualifies for Ireland through his paternal grandfather, quickly set about elbowing his way into Joe Schmidt's national set-up after arriving at Ulster.

While he spent time training with Ireland, his first call-up came from Andy Farrell for the 2020 Autumn Nations Cup.

A few months later, Burns found himself playing a key role in Ireland's Six Nations campaign. That brought a fair bit of heartache, and while Burns has not played Test rugby for overt two years, he is happy to still be growing as a player having learned to shift his focus from what his team-mates are doing to his own job.

"I actually spent a lot of time over the off-season reflecting. I think I learned a lot last year in terms of, as a 10 you're naturally a leader in the team, you're calling the shots and there's a lot that rides on your shoulders," said Burns.

"Last year, I was worried too much about what other people were doing in the team and probably wasn't getting my own house in order.

"I've started this season... obviously if there are things I need to say to the team, I'll say them - and I'll try to guide the team as much as I can out on the pitch. But it's very hard to ask people to do things when you're not doing your own job first, so I've focused a bit more on myself and that probably comes with experience as well.

"I try and help out as much as I can, if there's anyone that needs advice or if there's guidance that's needed on the pitch. But we have so many players who have played in a lot of big games now, we have that across the team which enables me to narrow my focus on to myself.

"I enjoy the leadership role but I probably have to focus on myself a bit more as well."

Doak has 'all the attributes' needed to play for Ireland

Burns was partnered by Nathan Doak for last week's win over the Bulls. With John Cooney absent, the scrum-half kicked 16 points to help Ulster to a second straight win and Burns was quick to lavish praise on the 21-year-old.

"I was actually chatting to Doaky this morning. I can't believe he's played 46 games for the club, genuinely it seems like he's played 146 games," said Burns.

"Whether at Gloucester or here, I've played with loads of nines, new guys coming through and guys with experience, but he just has such a cool head on his shoulders.

"He understands the game unbelievably well. He can see things, whether it's previewing a team in moment in games. It fills guys around you with confidence. It's unique in someone so young."

When asked if he could see Doak making an impact for Ireland in the future, Burns said: "He's got all the attributes that you'd want in someone to go and play at that level.

"He's cool under pressure, his skill-set is good and he knows the game well. If he keeps improving and knocking on the door and we keep playing well as a team, hopefully he won't be too far away from getting down there and hopefully pushing towards World Cups or whatever it may be."