Phil Burgess inspired by facing Maoris as Cornish Pirates strive to bounce back
For Cornish Pirates flanker Phil Burgess, it was, along with the rest of his team-mates, a case of coming back down to earth with a bump last Friday as they lost 32-6 at Bedford Blues in the Championship.
Six days beforehand, Burgess had started for the Championship XV against the touring Maori All Blacks on the back of scoring a hat-trick in the Pirates' 53-21 win over Rotherham Titans this month. While the game at Goldington Road was one to forget, the Maoris match is one he will always remember.
The 24-year-old, who is in his third season at Mennaye Field, described the match at Doncaster's Castle Park as the "highlight of my career so far" and explained how the performance of the Maori 'haka' motivated him.
He explained: "I'd seen the haka on television but never in reality, so that was also something really special."
"During the week before the game, I wondered what it would be like to face it and we weren't sure whether to stand on halfway or elsewhere because we didn't want to disrespect it. We just absorbed it, which was awesome, and you can see how it fires them up and it got me fired up too because I could see how into it they were.
"What took me by surprise was how noisy it was. We had had the anthems, which was pretty standard, but this was just noise of a different level and all pretty breathtaking."
The Maoris won on the day 52-21 but Burgess, who was joined in the squad by club-mates Gavin Cattle and Alan Paver as well as the Pirates' head coach Ian Davies, was relaxed about the scoreline.
"Just to be selected for the Championship side was awesome and to start was even better," he said. "The Maoris are all Super 15 players and you know that they are very good and, with a big crowd which was really vocal, that for me was great.
"We gave a good account of ourselves against a very good side but after 60 minutes or so their experience and familiarity with each other, in terms of things like off-loads, showed. We were always under pressure after that.
"We knew there were certain areas where we could compete, like the scrums, and, if you speak to Paves [Alan Paver], he will tell you that they went well, and we knew that there were certain areas where heart would get us through."
The only regret Burgess took back to Cornwall was that he was unable to claim a coveted Maoris jersey after the game, because the tourists did not have any spares.
He explained: "Unfortunately I didn't get a jersey because they didn't have any to swap! They still had a game to play on their tour and they were a bit limited, I think, but I have still got my memories of the day and the kit I wore."
The former Loughborough University man, who has represented England at Under-18 level and captained England Students, has been widely tipped to make the step up to the Premiership. But for now he is happy to ply his trade at the Pirates and score tries.
He said: "I love scoring tries and in the weeks up to the Rotherham game I hadn't really had the chance to do it. But now we have narrowed down our roles to do what we are good at and what we should be doing, and this puts people in the right places. Things clicked against Rotherham, but we also came up against a relatively weak side who were struggling with a few things."