Burns leaves indelible mark as he enhances his reputation
Taken together, the sighs of relief from the England coaching team at the end of this minor Premiership classic at Kingsholm were enough to constitute a gale force wind. Toby Flood looked very sharp at outside-half for Leicester; his colleagues Dan Cole and Geoff Parling applied God's amount of pressure, at scrum and line-out respectively; Freddie Burns reinforced the already overwhelming impression that he is an international No 10 in waiting; Billy Twelvetrees did something similar with regards to the No 12 position. But for some dodgy throwing from the hooker Tom Youngs, who would be positively lethal on a darts oche, it was just about perfect.
Yet perhaps the biggest bonus from the red-rose perspective was the news that the Gloucester flanker Akapusi Qera will not be available to Fiji for the opening Test of the autumn series at Twickenham in 12 days' time. Qera was at his most electrifying on Saturday: big, powerful and athletic in the uniquely threatening South Seas way, he scored one try, had a big hand in another and was generally into everything. It helped that his direct opponent, the slightly less aerodynamic Thomas Waldrom, was playing out of position – the Anglicised New Zealander is nobody's idea of hot-shot breakaway – but on this showing, Qera would have given Richie McCaw a run for his money.
Nigel Davies, the Gloucester coach, said afterwards that the Fijian had rejected an opportunity to tour with his national team – "He's made the decision that he wants to concentrate on his rugby here, which is great for us" – and went on to laud Qera's influence on the side, which has taken on added significance since the 14-week ban recently imposed on the most experienced of the club's loose forwards, Andy Hazell. Fiji's loss is unquestionably Gloucester's gain.
Whatever the rights, wrongs and realities behind international selection in the Pacific islands – while Samoa and Tonga have been able to draw heavily on personnel professionally contracted in Britain and France for their forthcoming tours, the Fijians find themselves in a different place – there is no denying the scale of the South Seas impact on the Premiership. Qera and the Tongan flanker Sione Kalamafoni started this game for the home side; Leicester arrived with a Fijian wing in Vereniki Goneva, a Samoan prop in Logovi'i Mulipola and a Tongan back-rower in Steve Mafi. All but Mulipola, who did not reach the interval, were major players in the production.
And what a production. Burns, mollycoddled through the build-up by a Gloucester hierarchy alarmed at the publicity surrounding him, was nothing short of brilliant in the early stages. The kick that set the game in motion was so perfectly judged, it allowed Twelvetrees to win the first aerial contest and set in train events that led to the outside-half creating a score for Charlie Sharples with the most subtle of toe-pokes. Burns then chipped to himself for touchdown number two before finding Sharples with a long diagonal punt that bordered on the visionary. Had the England wing nailed that opportunity, all "try of the season" debates would have been put to bed.
If his tactical kicking game went a little wonky midway through the opening half; if the recurrence of an ankle injury hampered him for a while; if Leicester's close-quarter ferocity denied him a glimpse of the ball for much of the second period … while all these things happened, it didn't much matter. Burns emerged from the contest with reputation enhanced, as it has been match on match throughout the campaign. He is building one hell of a case for himself.
As is his wont at the moment, Davies was keen to lower expectations. "He's still a bit of a mixed bag – he gets a little lost at times and we're working hard on his game management – but overall, we have to feel very positive," he said. The coach was far happier heaping praise on James Simpson-Daniel, whose spellbinding out-in rampage from broken play presented Qera with the try that would win the match. "James is an international wing," he said. "Whether he plays international rugby is not in my gift, but that's what he is."
It may be difficult to see Simpson-Daniel playing Test rugby again, more's the pity, but it is easy to see Burns with a white shirt on his back. Which explains Davies's thinking. The old stager stopped being dazzled by the bright lights years ago. The kid? He could yet be blinded by them.
Gloucester: Tries Sharples, Burns, Qera. Conversions Burns 3. Penalties Burns 2. Leicester: Tries Hamilton, penalty try. Conversion Flood. Penalties Flood 3.
Gloucester R Cook; C Sharples, M Tindall (capt), W Twelvetrees, J Simpson-Daniel; F Burns, J Cowan; N Wood (D Murphy 61), H Edmonds (K Britton 53), R Harden (S Knight 53), T Savage (P Buxton 57), W James, S Kalamafoni (M Cox 59), A Qera, B Morgan.
Leicester G Murphy (capt); S Hamilton, M Tuilagi, A Allen, V Goneva; T Flood, S Harrison; L Munipola (M Ayerza 36), T Youngs, D Cole, L Deacon, G Parling, S Mafi, T Waldrom, J Crane (E Slater 18).
Referee J P Doyle (London West).
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