Burns kicks Gloucester to top as Irish stumble

London Irish 22 Gloucester 29

the madejski stadium

London Irish will be sick of the sight of Freddie Burns. The young Gloucester fly-half, one of England's heroes at Twickenham a week earlier against New Zealand, scored the try that edged his club ahead in this significant Amlin Challenge Cup contest and ended with 24 points to go with the 25 he scored against the Irish in the Aviva Premiership back in September.

In doing so, Burns placed his club firmly at the head of Pool One, with the decisive match for a quarter-final place to be played between these two clubs at Kingsholm next Saturday.

Yesterday, therefore, could be expensive for London Irish: the Challenge Cup represents their lifeline to next season's Heineken Cup, since they stand very little chance of qualifying via the Premiership, in which they currently sit a lowly 11th.

Comfortable pool wins over Mont-de-Marsan and Bordeaux-Bègles counted for nothing when their rivals from down the M4 came calling. Nor did the 13-point advantage the Irish established early in the second half:

"It's unforgiveable, we've blown a great opportunity," Brian Smith, their director of rugby, said. "There was probably a bonus-point win for us with 20 minutes to go. Now we're vulnerable."

Gloucester, in contrast, were brimful of confidence even when the elan of their back division failed to produce results on the scoreboard. Burns, playing at inside-centre so that Billy Twelvetrees could be given a well-earned rest, added width to the attack, an echo of how Nigel Davies, now Gloucester's director of rugby, occasionally used Stephen Jones and Rhys Priestland during his days coaching the Scarlets in Llanelli.

Walking on water will probably be Burns's next task. To win his first cap as a replacement in England's win over the All Blacks is a reward given to few, and he admits he is in the form of his life: "If I'm playing well enough to push Owen [Farrell] and Toby [Flood] for the England shirt, I'm happy," he said. "It's a healthy position for the country."

There was a neat reminder here of the ups and downs of rugby: a sumptuous pass showed Burns at his best but it was followed by the ambitious grub-kick which rebounded off the defence in the Irish 22 and fell for Anthony Watson, the home wing, who duly streaked 80 metres for his side's third try.

But the point for Gloucester was the composure they then showed and the attacking desire which turned the match and finally proved too much for the Irish.

Sailosi Tagicakibau worked his way over as early as the third minute, but that the Irish led only by 10-6 at the interval was a nonsense. A second try for Tagicakibau went begging when Ofisa Treviranus flung a wild pass, and Ian Humphreys failed to make the corner when he tried to catch Gloucester napping at a penalty the visitors would have expected him to kick at goal.

Two tries within four minutes appeared to have retrieved the position, Halani Aulika erupting from a maul for the first and Watson making his long-range dash. But the Irish fell foul of the referee, who determinedly rewarded the attacking side; Charlie Sharples, whose England experience this autumn was the direct opposite of Burns's, was held up over the line before Gloucester's replacement prop, Dan Murphy, finished off a drive from a line-out against his former club.

Significantly, the Irish lost Bryn Evans to the sin-bin and, during his absence, Mike Tindall and Matt Cox broke from halfway before Burns darted through close to the posts. The conversion gave Gloucester the lead for the first time, and they came close to adding another try when Dave Lewis and Tindall made 60 metres but Ben Morgan was held up over the line.

Instead Burns brought his tally of penalties to five, leaving the Irish needing a converted try to keep pace at the head of the pool.

They threw everything into the effort before a marginal obstruction by Watson brought the game to a close, but Gloucester's European destiny is now firmly in their own hands.

London Irish T Homer; T Ojo, J Joseph, S Tagicakibau (G Armitage, 56), A Watson; I Humphreys (S Geraghty, 72), D Allinson (J Moates, 65); M Lahiff (J Yanuyanutawa, 56), D Paice (S Lawson, 56), H Aulika (L Halavatu, 56), B Evans, M Garvey (K Low, 62), D Danaher (capt; Low 19-25), O Treviranus (C Hala'ufia, 53) J Gibson.

Gloucester M Thomas (R Cook, 41); C Sharples, T Molenaar, F Burns, S Monahan; T Taylor (M Tindall, 53), D Robson (D Lewis, 63); N Wood (D Murphy, 50), D Dawidiuk, S Knight (R Hardern, 50), T Savage, J Hamilton (capt), S Kalamafoni, G Evans (B Morgan, 50), M Cox.

Referee D Phillips (Ireland).

London Irish

Tries: Tagicakibau, Aulika, Watson

Cons: Humphreys (2)

Pen: Humphreys

Gloucester

Tries: Murphy, Burns

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