Burns in frame to make comeback for Gloucester
Freddie Burns, the Gloucester outside-half whose 17-minute cameo for England in the pre-Christmas victory over the All Blacks suggested he might single-handedly transform the national team's fortunes as an attacking force, is under consideration for his club's Premiership derby at Bath on Friday night. If he plays, it will be his first outing since mid-January, when he damaged knee ligaments in the early stages of a European tie with the French side Mont-de-Marsan.
That injury wrecked what might have been a thrilling Six Nations campaign for the 22-year-old playmaker. After his display against the world champions, he was a clear favourite to understudy Owen Farrell as the red-rose No 10.
Now, it seems his next Test outing will be in Argentina in June. Even if he starts the game against his home-town club and performs a minor miracle or two, he will not be involved when Italy pitch up at Twickenham on Sunday week and is most unlikely to break into the England squad for the final tournament contest in Wales on 16 March.
Burns trained lightly last week and is expected to do significantly more over the next couple of days. Nigel Davies, the Gloucester rugby director, may yet hold him back: the West Countrymen have a fortnight's break from Premiership rugby following the Bath fixture and this would give Burns an opportunity to ease his way into full contact. There again, the forthcoming match at the Recreation Ground is an important one, and Gloucester's chances of prevailing will be far greater if Burns is reunited with his fellow England midfielder Billy Twelvetrees, who is expected to be released for the occasion.
Twelvetrees was included in a 31-man England training party for the Italy match, named by the head coach Stuart Lancaster yesterday. All the usual suspects were there, including two injured forwards – the Gloucester No 8 Ben Morgan and the London Irish prop Alex Corbisiero – and a couple of uncapped players in Joel Tomkins, the Saracens centre, and Matt Kvesic, the Worcester flanker.
While the front-line players will stay in camp until Thursday before heading off for a few days of down time, some of those who did not start last Saturday's victory over France will be made available for club duty. It will be interesting to see if Lancaster releases the Saracens prop Mako Vunipola, who is widely thought to be within touching distance of making a first international start against the Azzurri.
On the club front, two of the teams most deeply implicated in the relegation dogfight made moves in recruitment yesterday. London Irish, starting to find some decent form after a rotten first half of the season, strengthened their hold on the services of the Australian scrum-half Pat Phibbs by persuading him to sign a two-year deal. Phibbs joined in December as cover for the injured Tomas O'Leary and has played an influential role in the Exiles' upturn. London Welsh, meanwhile, brought in the wing Seb Stegmann from Harlequins.
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