Burns fails to sparkle as Irish pull off shock
Gloucester 12 London Irish 18: England coach Catt sees fly-half flop and former club end their losing run
No man should be damned for one match alone, but Freddie Burns's chance to impress the watching England skills coach Mike Catt came and went in despair with his club suffering possibly the most surprising loss in this season's Premiership.
All kinds of sad statistics had pointed to an away-day of woe for London Irish but as Catt himself pointed out before settling down to watch the talented fly-half and half a dozen other contenders to be named in England's revised senior squad on Wednesday, rugby can be a "funny old sport".
The numbers that screamed of Irish's demise before yesterday included a run of six Premiership losses since early October, no away league try since late September, seven consecutive defeats in all competitions and three losses out of three previous league and European meetings with Gloucester. But an oddly disjointed performance by the home team put paid to all of that and though Irish remain second-bottom in the table, they have increased their advantage over Sale to five points and can look forward more confidently to crucial home matches with Worcester, London Welsh and Sale.
Catt, of course, was a long-time London Irishman until he joined the huge exodus of coaches and players that contributed towards the worst overall record of any Premiership club in 2012. Any residual pleasure he took in seeing his old team come out the right side of a messy match in the scrum, or from Ben Morgan making a few good charges from No 8, would have been tempered by seeing Burns – whose chances of England duty could improve after yesterday's tip-tackle citing for Leicester's Toby Flood – struggle to impose a controlling hand.
Equally so that Billy Twelvetrees at centre was unable to share Burns's decision-making load. The absence of the injured backs James Simpson-Daniel, Jonny May, Henry Trinder and Olly Morgan left Gloucester bereft of incision.
"Emotionally we didn't turn up," said Nigel Davies, the Gloucester director of rugby. "That coupled with our with our error count meant we got it wrong today. The scrum is a mess at the moment; there's a huge frustration with it."
A "mess" was also the word used by his London Irish counterpart Brian Smith to describe the knee of the club's primary loosehead prop Alex Corbisiero, who dropped out of the eve-of-match captain's run and has not played since England's win over New Zealand on 1 December.
"He has degenerative knee issues and he's played one and a half games for us this season," said Smith. "I can't say when he'll play again."
Yet Irish's front row that had been marmalised by Harlequins last week found Gloucester easier to cope with, and though the defence coach Shaun Edwards had said farewell to the Exiles early last week, their cover was effective and committed.
The more Burns tried in the first half, the less that came off. A chip kick bounced kindly for opposing full-back Tom Homer; a long miss-pass put Charlie Sharples in trouble and a cross-kick to Sharples was pulled back for the wing being offside. Then Burns was unable to tackle Homer as Irish's first try in 297 minutes was finished by the lock George Skivington stretching his 6ft 6ins frame to the line.
Like waiting for a London bus, another London Irish try came along soon enough, within 15 minutes in fact, and the scorer was the same.
The on-loan scrum-half Pat Phibbs kicked and Gloucester's wing Shane Monahan fumbled allowing a turnover that Phibbs popped up to the supporting Skivington.
A scrum penalty to each side in a try-less second half contributed to Gloucester reducing Irish's 15-6 half-time lead to three points by the 62nd minute – Burns and Steve Shingler had swapped early penalties for 3-3, before Burns's penalty and Shingler's conversion of Skivington's second try. Burns, after the interval, missed one and kicked two.
But after Shingler missed one for Irish, it was left to Homer, who had been nursing a knee by not kicking, to whack over a penalty for 18-12 on 71 minutes. "That'll be a big 'W' in the Sunday newspapers," said Smith. "I've been getting sick of seeing the alternative."
Mike Tindall is a Welsh Grand National winner
Gloucester's captain Mike Tindall had some good news yesterday as Monbeg Dude, the horse he co-owns with fellow rugby players James Simpson-Daniel and Nicky Robinson, won the Welsh Grand National. Gloucester's wing Charlie Sharples reported that a handful of the club's players had bet on the winner.
Gloucester R Cook; C Sharples, M Tindall (capt), B Twelvetrees, S Monahan; F Burns, J Cowan (D Robson, 51); D Murphy (N Wood, 51), H Edmonds (D Dawidiuk, 62), S Knight, T Savage, W James, S Kalamafoni, B Morgan, A Qera (M Cox 51).
London Irish T Homer; J Joseph, S Tagicakibau, S Shingler, M Yarde; I Humphreys (S Geraghty, 50), P Phibbs (J Moates, 74); M Lahiff, D Paice (S Lawson, 39), H Aulika (L Halavatau, 68), G Skivington, B Evans (capt), M Garvey (J Gibson, 74), C Hala'ufia, J Sinclair.
Referee D Rose (Plymouth).
Pens Burns 4
Tries: Skivington 2
Pens: Shingler, Homer
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