Northern Ireland

Ex-England rugby captain Gill Burns camps in bar

Gill Burns sitting on camp bed in Malone Rugby Club Bar area
Image caption Gill Burns represented England 73 times during her international career

A rugby club bar is not where you would expect to find a former England rugby captain bedding down during a major sporting tournament.

However, that's exactly where former international star Gill Burns is based ahead of Saturday's Women's Rugby World Cup final at Belfast's Kingspan stadium.

Due to a last-minute hiccup in camping arrangements, the rugby royal had to make alternative sleeping plans, but she is very much at home in her sporty surroundings.

There was an insurance issue with the size of the group with which she was travelling.

"I got a call on Saturday night from the digs we were due to stay in, and they said, 'We're really sorry but we legally can't host you any more,'" she said.

Image copyright BURNS FAMILY
Image caption Gill Burns began playing rugby in 1987 and was part of the England team who won the World Cup in 1994

"It was then time to do a frantic search on the internet and I found Malone Rugby Club, contacted the president, Patrick Baird, and he saved the day.

"There are seven of us, and we were happy enough to camp outside under canvas, but he said why not stay inside because there's bad weather coming in?

"Looking at the thunder and lightning on Wednesday, I'm glad we did!"

'You bought your own shirt'

Travelling with other former international players, Ms Burns, who is originally from Prescot, Merseyside, said "glamping" at Malone Rugby Club was a "real treat".

"All of us have been involved in the women's game from when it was a complete amateur sport," she told BBC News NI.

Image caption Ms Burns is confident her national team can win the World Cup final against New Zealand on Saturday

"We flew to countries like New Zealand to play and we had to pay our own way.

"You bought your own shirt, you paid your own hotel accommodation - we didn't have the money our male counterparts had.

"So now when we go away for a week, we try and do it on a budget and that's why we were going to camp, but where we've ended up is luxury!"

Image caption The former internationals are staying in the bar area of Malone Rugby Club in Belfast

Gill Burns' rugby career began in 1987 and she captained her national side for five seasons.

"I first got involved after playing in a hockey tournament," said the teacher.

"I knocked somebody over by mistake and they suggested that the way I played hockey, I should perhaps play rugby instead!"

She was invited to a training session and has not looked back.

Image caption The former number eight said Saturday's final would be a tough game, but backed England to win

"I played other sports but rugby answered all the questions for me - it's a fantastic team game," she said.

Looking ahead to Saturday's final between England and New Zealand, the former forward said it would be a tough game, but was confident her national team would come away victorious.

"New Zealand have looked fantastic up to this point, and England have had some hard games, but they've played some canny rugby," she said.

"We're going to have a very fresh side for the final, so it's going to be a close game, but I think England are going to do it."

Having been involved in the sport for 30 years, the 53-year-old said she had seen "massive changes in the game".

"When I started playing women's rugby in England it was in its infancy," she said.

"We were all beginners but all sportswomen - cross-country runners, hockey players, climbers. All different athletes of different descriptions coming together and trying something new."

Image caption England face New Zealand in Saturday evening's World Cup final at Belfast's Kingspan stadium

She added: "We were all fit, but we were learning the game from scratch, even at international level, but we had some fantastic coaches.

"It's just great that nowadays we have absolutely world-class athletes who display the most wonderful spectacle."

During her trip, Ms Burns took part in a Legends Game at Malone Rugby Club.

Image caption Ms Burns played in a Legends Game for former internationals - the final score was England 12 - Ireland 12

"They arranged for players from the old England and Ireland Squads, to come together and have a bit of fun," she said ahead of Friday night's contest.

"It might take a bit of time for us old girls to get our boots on!

"Some of us are probably too old to really be getting involved, but we're all excited to get the chance to play with people who used to be your arch enemies in matches, and to have some social time with them too."

World cup final
Venue:Kingspan Stadium, BelfastDate:Saturday, 26 AugustKick-off:19:45 BST
Coverage:Live radio commentary on BBC Radio 5 live from 19:30 BST - 22:00 and text commentary on the BBC Sport website and app.

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