Phil Burleigh will battle for Edinburgh place

Phil Burleigh tries to burst through the Brumbies defence while playing for Highlanders. Picture: Getty
Phil Burleigh tries to burst through the Brumbies defence while playing for Highlanders. Picture: Getty
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PHIL Burleigh insists he is not heading to Scotland for an armchair ride after signing a two-year deal with Edinburgh Rugby.

The Murrayfield-based outfit caused a stir on Thursday with head coach Alan Solomons drafting the 27-year-old “primarily as a stand-off” despite the New Zealander plying his trade at inside centre with the Highlanders.

Solomons has also handed out a new deal to South African stand-off Carl Bezuidenhout and acquired young Scottish playmaker Tom Heathcote from Bath, but Burleigh is up for the challenge of breaking into the starting XV at stand-off.

“If that’s the way it is and I have to forge my way through, I like that,” he said. “Competition brings the best out of everybody and I’d hate to be starting right from the outset and for it to be an armchair ride.

“I don’t know a hell of a lot about European rugby – I haven’t watched a lot, but Alan has informed me of what the competition is like.

“It’s a different country; not many people know much about me. I’ve got to prove myself, but I’m looking forward to the challenge.

“Murrayfield has a lot of history — it’s awesome to get the chance to play there.”

While his short-term focus is on helping the Highlanders through tough Super Rugby matches against the Waratahs and Crusaders in the coming weeks to keep their play-off hopes on track, Burleigh is keen to put to rest any uncertainty in Scotland over his skillsets and ability to transition from inside centre to stand-off when he joins his new Edinburgh team-mates in August.

“A lot of those things come really naturally,” he said. “I work on those skills all the time so I’ve got no issues adapting to being a starting 10.

“I played a lot of rugby as 10 when I was younger. When I went through the grades in Canterbury I was a stand-off and also a fair bit at Bay of Plenty, my provincial side.

“Mostly I’ve played a lot of 12 and I’ve enjoyed that, but it’s a new opportunity for me and something fresh.”

Burleigh has been a prominent fixture in a Highlanders backline which boasts All Blacks stars Ben Smith and Aaron Smith, as well as rising star Malakai Fekitoa, but concedes that he has reached the point in his career where he needs a new challenge.

“Around 27 or 28, a lot of New Zealand midfielders start to head overseas — it’s a bit of a trend,” he said.

“I’ve got to that stage where I’ve hit my end point in New Zealand and probably won’t go any further. I want a fresh and new start somewhere else and I’ve definitely got that with Edinburgh.

“Alan has explained to me what he wants to do with the Edinburgh team and I like the challenge of trying to get back to near the top of the league.”

Unlike Glasgow Warriors winger Sean Maitland, who swapped New Zealand for Scotland in 2012 and made his international debut against England at Twickenham in March last year, Burleigh is not eligible to represent Scotland immediately, but admits he would be privileged to don the dark blue jersey if he became eligible.

“I don’t qualify, unfortunately,” he said. “My great grandparents were from Scotland, so I’ve definitely got Scottish blood in me.

“They’re a proud country and a couple of New Zealanders have played for them before and done it through residency. To play for any country is a great privilege. I haven’t thought too far ahead at this stage but, if that kind of opportunity came up, I’d grab it.”

The Christchurch-born son of former Canterbury centre Wayne Burleigh is due to arrive in Edinburgh with his partner after an enforced four-week break at the end of the Super Rugby season while he waits for his passport to be sorted out. Familiar faces Sam Beard and Mike Coman will be waiting for him.

“I’ve spoken to those boys and I’ve really enjoyed what they’ve done at Edinburgh so far and I look forward to getting over there,” he added.

“I played with Sam Beard at Bay of Plenty. I was out injured last year, but I got to know him quite a bit. I played a lot of age-grade rugby with Mike Coman at Canterbury and I’m good friends with him.

“I’ve never been over to that part of the world and my partner wants to do a bit of travelling, so it’d be nice to do that when it’s on your back doorstep. It made it easy as an option to move to Edinburgh.”