9:10am Thursday 31st May 2012
THE WORDS of the player who has appeared more times than any other for Wales are particularly poignant this weekend.
“When I look back at my caps – one for 100, one for 50 and the first – it is the first that is the most important,” said Gareth Thomas when talking about his old pal Martyn Williams bringing up his century.
That should bring some comfort to Lloyd Burns, who this time last season was preparing to make his international bow against the Barbarians.
The 27-year-old hooker from Pontnewydd may still feel a tinge of regret that injury and health problems denied him the chance to improve his tally of seven caps.
Saturday will undoubtedly be an emotional time for Burns, who was forced to hang up his boots this year despite having so much more development and improvement to come.
He probably feels the words of Tim Booth are more appropriate than those of Thomas.
“If I hadn’t seen such riches I could live with being poor,” sang the James front man.
But, hopefully, the former Newport Gwent Dragons forward will come to realise what he achieved in such a short space of time.
Pontypool back rower in 2007 to Cross Keys hooker and talisman within the space of a season – all while working as a brickie.
Dragons fringe player in March 2010. Dragons starter in March 2011. Wales international in June 2011. World Cup squad member in September 2011.
Sport is full of rags to riches tales and Burns’ rise is up there with the best of them.
He remains an inspiration to those who receive knockbacks – Burns never moped when not getting a look in; he never shrugged his shoulders and said, ‘well, it’s clearly not meant to be’.
Burns dusted himself down and got on with things. When he got on for 16 minutes against the Barbarians he got the reward for all that hard graft, for all those evenings of training after a hard shift on the building site.
I used to do the occasional Premiership preview with ‘Burner’ when he was Keys skipper and he was never one for flowery language He just loved the game, loved playing next to his mates and loved smashing into the opposition.
It was refreshing that he didn’t change one bit when he was Burner the Dragons hooker or Burner the Wales hooker.
His approach to the sport meant that he was held in high esteem by supporters, coaches and teammates alike.
The Dragons and Wales squads are both poorer for the absence of Burns, who would surely have gone on to captain his region.
But there are things more important than sport – proved when Burns’ wife Rachel, who he married the day before the Baa Baas game, gave birth to their son Oscar days after he announced his retirement.
The little lad probably won’t believe his dad when he is recalling his days as an international but the proof will be there on the wall opposite the Wales changing room.
The moment that he trotted onto the Millennium Stadium pitch to replace Huw Bennett on that sunny afternoon, the name of Lloyd Byron Burns was added to the honours board alongside the greats of Welsh rugby.
That will never be removed and in time, hopefully, he will come to realise just how incredible his achievement was.
To see his former teammates go on to win the Grand Slam must have added to the feeling of regret and frustration.
But that should be outweighed by pride because in these days where people talk about ‘cheap caps’ few worked harder than Burns to make it to the very top.
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