IRB Hall of Fame – Induction No.81 – Gillian Ann Burns, MBE (England, Great Britain, Waterloo) 1964-

Personal details

– Born: 12 July, 1964
– Family: Parents Ann and Ron
– Education: The University of Chester

Other sports/interests

Burns represented British Colleges at hockey, basketball, swimming and athletics. The daughter of a dance teacher, Burns used to spend her off-season doing ballet, which, she believes, helped account for her extraordinary athleticism and ability to out-jump opponents in the lineout, She holds diplomas in tap, ballet and modern dance.

Playing career

– Within a couple of seasons of taking up the sport while at Liverpool Polytechnic Burns was playing for England.

– The rangy number 8 made her international debut against Sweden at Waterloo, a game in which she not only played, but also organised to help promote women’s rugby in the north. 

– Burns went on to enjoy a 14-year international career, winning a then record 73 caps for her country.

– She was long-standing captain of the national side, after succeeding Karen Almond, and part of the Women’s Rugby World Cup winning team in 1994 – one of four tournaments she competed in (1991, 1994, 1998, 2002).

– Won the first of her two caps for Great Britain against France in 1989. 

– Played for Waterloo Ladies from 1989, when she established the women’s section at the club, until as recently as 2013.

– Other representative honours included two World XV Caps, five England Sevens caps, and playing for the North.

Other sporting achievements/awards

– North West representative on the North and National Rugby Football Union Women committees from 1988-1993

– President of Waterloo Rugby Club, the first female to hold such a position

– Former President of the Women’s Rugby Football Union/Rugby Football Union for Women

– She received a number of awards on winning the Women’s Rugby World Cup in 1994, including: The Sunday Times Sportswomen of the Year Team Award; The Cosmopolitan Achievement Award for Sporting Success; Sports Writers' Association Awards; and her contribution to women’s rugby was recognised at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Awards.

– In 1995 she received an invitation to 10 Downing Street to celebrate the Government’s plans for the future of sport and in 1997 was invited to a reception at Buckingham Palace to celebrate Sport in the Life of the Nation.

– Awarded the MBE in 2005 by the Queen for Services to Sport

– In 2012, she was named as a Privileged Member of the RFU and voted Waterloo Rugby Club All-time Hero.

– Burns’ passion for rugby is also evident in her long and illustrious career as a PE teacher. She currently teaches at the Range High School in Formby, Liverpool.

What she said

– On taking up the sport: "I met some hockey players at a tournament who were wearing rugby club sweaters. We talked about rugby and I went with them to Waterloo where they trained. In my first match I was crawling around on the floor and conceding penalties because I didn't know the laws. Afterwards, there was this incredible buzz. I had played many other sports, but I thought to myself, `I love this'."

–  "Few of us would have thought of ourselves primarily as rugby players. Most of us had played other sports. I'd played a number of sports and was introduced to rugby after a hockey match. I scored a few goals and knocked a couple of the opposing players over. They said I'd make a good rugby player. I thought they were joking, but it turned out that they were completely serious.”

– Discussing the hardships faced in the early years of playing international women’s rugby: “For league matches we might meet at seven on Sunday morning, pile four or five people into each car and go to the other end of the country. My car is four years old and it's done 150,000 miles. I spend all my wages, I haven't saved a penny. It costs us all an awful lot to play the game. When we get together in the squad we always talk about the same thing: winning the lottery, and how we would use the money."

- Speaking about England’s defeat to the USA in the Women’s Rugby World Cup 1991 final: "It wasn't that the Americans were bigger and stronger, although they had a couple of big locks who became known as the 'locks from hell' and became mini-celebrities. They were simply much more experienced and had more game sense. We were pretty naïve - on one occasion we gave them the ball back quickly for a line-out and they threw in and scored."

– On receiving the MBE in 2005: "Captaining the England team was a massive honour in itself but you never expect to recieve anything like this. I am also delighted because the MBE shows that the government and the country are recognising women's rugby in today's sporting world." 

What they said

– Stephen Jones writing in The Sunday Times in 1996: “It is a long time since I was so impressed by someone in sport. It is not so much that she is a fine player and athlete, such a selfless ambassador for women's rugby, or, indeed, some kind of valiant amateur throwback to rugby as it once was. It is that Burns came across, in every respect, as a genuine, 24-carat English sporting heroine.”

– Former England captain Catherine Spencer: “Like me, she played number 8 and captained England, albeit some years ago, but did an incredible amount to help start women’s rugby. When I was about 14 I saw her on the TV show Rugby Special, which in itself was an achievement for a female player, and I can remember thinking what an amazing lady she was and how that was what I wanted to do someday.”