Best of the Weekend: Burns steals the show in Kingsholm classic

Tom Casson HarlequinsEuropean rugby may have taken a sojourn after a sumptuous two-week stay, but a domestic fixture list full of enticing subplots provided plenty with which to whet the appetite. Here is the pick of what went on.

Cracker at Kingsholm as Quins sneak back to the summit

The weekend had barley begun before Bryan Redpath’s excruciating run of Premiership pain had extended to a scarcely credible run of twelve consecutive defeats. Sale – who have now suffered the last seven of those – stay rooted to the bottom of the table following a tight tussle at Sixways, which was only decided by a typically brilliant flash of individual flair from David Lemi. The slight Samoan sparkplug scythed inside three would-be tacklers to cross the whitewash in the first half and, though the visitors once again showed admirable attacking verve, Worcester’s experienced half-back pairing of Paul Hodgson and Andy Goode did enough to guide Worcester to victory.

If that provided an adequate aperitif, there was immense intrigue to come. With Stuart Lancaster naming a largely unsurprising squad for next month’s autumn Tests on Thursday morning, England expected talking points. And – after elementary errors and the exemplary Francois Louw prevented Exeter from ending a 34-year win-drought against Bath at The Rec – that is exactly what they got.

Niggles and needle have not prevented Northampton and Saracens from producing some compelling clashes in recent years. Although there was only a single try to savour this time round, Franklin’s Gardens still witnessed something significant. Fiercely effective up front, the Fez-heads took few risks and emerged with a win that was more comfortable than the 16-6 scoreline suggested. Alex Goode’s try, forged from an excellent counter-attack featuring Schalk Brits and Joel Tomkins, was an apt game-breaker, while worrying knee injuries to Dylan Hartley and Courtney Lawes rubbed salt into a painful wound for Jim Mallinder.

Another man at the forefront of Lancaster’s thoughts did not even make the pitch later that afternoon, as a tight hamstring saw Ben Youngs withdraw from the Leicester Tigers line-up before kick-off at Kingsholm. Even so, a bona fide classic occurred and, interestingly, it was those outside the international fold that figured most prominently. A virtuoso performance from Freddie Burns commanded admiration. It yielded 17 points, including a quicksilver score from a delightful chip-and-chase before the break. There was also a fantastic piece of vision to set up Charlie Sharples (with 46 seconds on the clock) and accurate kicking, but most impressive was Burns’ involvement in an incredibly determined finish from a Gloucester side that had been reduced to thirteen men on the back of late yellow cards for Jimmy Cowan and Rob Cook.

Subjected to a torrid twelve-minute spell, the Cherry & Whites just about weathered the storm, limiting the rampaging Leicester forwards to a solitary penalty try. Before that, James Simpson-Daniel – another apparently exiled from the Test arena – had conjured the winning score for Akapusi Qera with a truly magical run. How Nigel Davies managed to keep his emotions in check at the final whistle is an utter mystery.

Attention turned to the capital on Sunday for a duo of London derbies. First up was a see-saw contest at the Madejski, which the boot of Ian Humphreys very nearly won for Irish. Champions never lie down, though. When Quins centre Tom Casson crossed in the corner at the death, he thought he had knocked on. After around eleven replays, the television official ruled that the grounding was legal. “We used up a lot of luck,” smiled Nick Easter afterwards. Pretty accurate.

As the early-evening darkness closed in on High Wycombe, Wasps continued their happier campaign into the winter with a third win, this time over London Welsh. Once more Lyn Jones’ charges gave everything. Once more it was not enough. Points have to come more consistently for another year in the big-time to be earned.

Ulster march on, Cardiff collapse and Parisse topples Toulouse

Cardiff may have been brave in the face of Toulon last weekend, but the wheels certainly flew off in Dublin against another set of European giants. In fact, Leinster barely broke sweat in running up a nine-try blitzing. At half-time, the score was 40-3. That just about defines the doldrums that the Blues are wallowing in. Dragons fared little better in Belfast on Friday evening, but at least they fought a while before falling 46-19. Ospreys and Scarlets salvaged some Welsh pride by beating Connacht and Edinburgh respectively, while Munster and Glasgow saw off Italian opposition to complete the RaboDirect Pro 12 action.

Evidently indifferent to goings-on in Blighty, the Armitage brothers continued to revel in the relative obscurity of Top 14 competition, grabbing three tries between them in table-topping Toulon’s thrashing of Bayonne. Elsewhere, a brace from Sergio Parisse saw Stade Francais to an eye-catching defeat of Toulouse.

Hero of the Weekend was a pretty easy call, but one that defined the fickle nature of our sport. Seven days ago, Toby Flood was lauded as the architect of Leicester’s resurgence. On Saturday, he was comprehensively outshone by an awesome young man on a mission. There is not a great deal more that Freddie Burns can do, now. Your move, Mr Lancaster.

Far more brainless than brutish, Dan Hipkiss takes the Villain of the Weekend title for an idiotic sending off against Exeter. Interfering with the ball from a spot in the sin-bin gave referee Wayne Barnes no option and the red curtain had to descend. Oh, and Bath were under the pump at that point, too. Plain stupid.

Try of the Weekend heads to another tipped, but deemed not quite complete enough, for England honours. For sheer pace, Christian Wade takes some beating. His second against Welsh on Sunday left defenders gawping.

By Charlie Morgan (@CharlieFelix)

29 thoughts on “Best of the Weekend: Burns steals the show in Kingsholm classic

  1. To reiterate my points last week… How are Wade and Burns not in the England squad? Both sensational this weekend, particularly Burns was just an incredible watch on Saturday.

    With Wade, I can sort of see why he isn’t getting picked, his defensive frailties may be exposed in the test arena, so almost fair enough(despite my opinion being that his attacking speed and abilities make him still worth picking).

    But Burns must be scratching his head and wondering what he can do. Every part of his game was sensational on Saturday, as it has been all year. I am trying to find a weakness in his game, or a reason he hasn’t been picked; can anyone enlighten me?

  2. As you say – what else does Frddie Burns need to do?! Was also impressed by the finishing of Wade and Varndell, but still think JSD is playing a complete game at the moment, and should be back in the England squad.

  3. It does seem odd that Burns was not included. I know it was said that Lancasters hands were tied with certain positions, i.e. replacing injured or retired players from the previous squad. If that’s the case how did Anthony Allen get brought into the squad? I know Monye was in the squad previously but then got injured, but who has Allen replaced? Personally I would rather have Burns in the squad than Allen. Burns has played at 12 before, but I can’t see Allen covering 10?

    1. I agree with that, Burns would make sense over Allen. We do seem to have a lot of players that can play 12 in the squad (Barritt, Tuilagi, Farrell, JTH, and then Allen.) And I would say Farrell is better off at 12 than 10 so Burns should really be in there.

      In response to the Wasps wingers, I like Varndell but I do think that Wade strikes more fear into the opposition, so would edge it for me.

      It seems as though players like Vardell and JSD have just been dismissed from all international recognition. I really hope the same doesn’t happen to Wade.

      1. I think in the case of Varndell (as with Voyce), he had several chances on the international stage a few seasons ago, but his defence at that level was shocking. And I think that’s why Wade has been left out as well. You have to be able to defend from every position at the top level, and whilst you can have centres to cover a flaky fly half (Barritt & Flood), as a winger sometimes you are the last line of defence and have to be able and willing to tackle. Wade has plenty of time to strengthen his defence. JSD spent so much time injured in his early years that I think his time has probably passed (unfortunately).

      2. Also, you’re right, all these players for one centre position, but just one out and out 13 in Joseph. Tuilagi will probably be first choice 13, but could play 12 or wing. Would anyone else like to see Matt Hopper given a shot?

        1. Yes I agree on the wingers dilemma. Wade could do with shoring up his defense. I can see the reasoning on most the wingers exclusions.

          In terms of Hopper, I feel as though he is a bit too weak defensively. He misses a lot of tackles I have noticed. The likes of Elliot Daly and George Lowe are higher up the pecking order than Hopper I believe.

        2. Please, not Hopper. Quins tend to struggle when their Lowe-JTH partnership is ruptured, and that’s because Hopper isn’t as good as they are. Hopper’s a decent player. But not good enough to be in the Harlequins first team, let alone England.

    1. I do tend to agree with this comment. As much as they are professionals, it must have some bearing. Dropping your son from the international set up has got to make Christmas a little awkward!

      I am not suggesting that this is the only reason, but I find it hard to say it has no influence.

    2. In replying to this comment, I confirm that I am a complete Burns supporter, but really don’t think that your comment is fair at all. Farrell is in the squad because he came in and steadied a rocky England ship. He did a good job under the circumstances and was what England needed at the time. He is therefore in the squad for good reasons.

      However England have (fortunately) continued to move forward and unless Farrell moves his game on as well, the England squad SHOULD leave him behind. Arguably Burns is playing the best rugby of any English (or possibly any) 10 in the AP at the current time, but is behind the incumbents in terms of international experience. There is an obvious answer to that! but I don’t think that nepotism is the cause.

    3. I think that statement is completely unfair. Farrell senior would have no problem dropping his son if he didn’t think he was good enough. But as stated the other day, Lancaster has the final say in selection, so even if Andy Farrell put his sons name forward it would be down to Lancaster to put him in the squad.

      I think Owen has proved himself as good enough at the basics to be in the squad. A top place and tactical kicker, very good in defence, but lacking in the flair department doesn’t mean he should be dropped.

      Yes I agree Burns should be in the squad, probably ahead of Allen who has sneaked in somehow. But to state that Owen is only in the squad because his dad is one of the coaches is out of order.

      1. I thought Farrell was a pretty terrible tactical kicker in the 6N and on tour. It was our kick chase that made him look good in the 6N. We then stopped the good kick chase in SA and it exposed how poor Farrell’s kicking was.

  4. Shame that Burns isn’t in the England senior squad, but I can see some logic to it. Burns’ game management was an issue for a while, but while he has improved massively on this point, I think there are still some concerns over this. I think if he manages to display a consistency with this over the course of the season, then he’ll make the breakthrough soon enough.

    1. I am not suggesting that it is the only reason Farrell is in the squad. I simply feel that it is difficult to drop him when his dad is one of the coaches.

      And I don’t think you can put it down to his Burns’ game management, he has shown real maturity in that particular area this season.

  5. I’ve said on another thread that when assessing potential internationals, its not just the talent of an individual you need to assess, but their temperament too. Balshaw had loads of talent, but could go to pieces, Easter is another who has so much talent, but never seems to front up when you really need him. Whilst I think Burns should at least be in or around the squad, there were enough wobbles in the Leicester match to put doubts in Lancaster’s mind. Yes he has talent. But do we really want another Cipriani moment, when a talented player is rushed into the team, and not mentally ready (I don’t think he’s yet recovered from the 2008 AI mauling). Lets give Burns a few more months, if he’s still playing consistently well and Lancaster doesn’t use him as one of his swaps (say for Allen or JTH) then maybe then we can start to see an agenda. for all his faults, Farrell is mentally sound and perhaps you could get around some of his limitations by playing a creative 12 outside him like Twevltrees.

    1. Absolutely agree with this. Farrell came into the starting line for Sarries a quarter of the way through a season at the age of 19, and then started (I think) every game. The same season Sarries went on to win the Premiership. If that doesn’t show enough ability to control a game, the correct temperament and mental toughness at top level I don’t know what does.

        1. We created some decent opportunities in the Wales and France 6n matches with Farrell at 10 so he can do it, its just not his strongest area. As I said pair him with someone like 12trees rather then Barritt and you may square the hole ala the Wilko/ Catt axis of 2007.

    2. Good point about needing to access temperment when looking at International propects. Good example of this is Geordan Murphy with Ireland. One of the best full backs in the Premiership during his carreer yet was a bag of nerves when playing for Ireland and could be found at fault for at least one try a game conceded. Real pity but perhaps shows the jump in levels to be successful at International level.

      1. It is an interesting point about a players temperament; and one I hadn’t thought too much about if I’m honest.

        I tend to agree with most that has been said. Whilst saying that, at what point does Burns demand at least a chance to prove he is good enough?

        And to reiterate my stance, I am not a Farrell jnr hater. I completely understand and agree with many of the points as to why he is in the squad, I just think it would be foolish to dismiss the fact that his dad has a coach has absolutely no bearing.

        1. I think if he continues his form into the new year he has a compelling case to be included in one of SL’s picks. Remember SL can only change for injuries. Whilst theoretically he can swap who he likes regardless of position, the injuries to Hartley, Lawes & Marler dictated like for like replacments. Now if JJ is ruled out, he has a perfect opportunity to get Burns into a squad that has more than ample centre cover

    1. Ho ho ho ho. Serves him right. No sympathy for him at all. Walked away from a good job and a good team because he thought the grass was greener. Fortunately Glos are better off without him and so will Sale be. Mitchell might turn them around.

  6. According to the offical Aviva Premiership site Freddie Burns has scored the most points in the AP, kicked the most conversions in the AP and kicked the most penalties in the AP.

    I can’t honestly see what more he need to do to be in the England squad…
    For some reason the England set up seem to favour picking players from the Lodon clubs and it is just wrong!

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