Burns' unerring accuracy shows Gloucester the way
Gloucester 29 Saracens 28
Monday 05 April 2010
Nineteen Points, faultlessly kicked off a gluepot surface marginally wetter and heavier than the average riverbed by a slightly built teenager oozing confidence from every pore?
Crikey. It's enough to make a chap feel good about England's long-term future at Test level, even if the short-term future has about as much going for it as the Greek economy. And then there was the youngster's opposite number – hardly a veteran himself at 21 but authoritative beyond his years, gloriously inventive and apparently blessed with all the talents.
Freddie Burns, the new talk of the town down Gloucester way, would rather play outside-half than full-back. So too would Alex Goode of Saracens, who has been making people sit up and take notice all season. Both will have their chance, Goode more quickly than Burns given his club's well-documented plan to push him upfield from the start of next season, but while they are where they are, why not enjoy it while it lasts? Certainly, there were more than 13,000 people to be found revelling in their performances on Saturday night.
A little like his Kingsholm forerunner Dimitri Yachvili, the France international scrum-half whose legs turn to pipe cleaners below the knees, Burns does not look nearly strong enough to kick as prodigiously as he does. Twelve and a half stone is seven-stone weakling territory in modern-day professional union. Yet despite the underfoot conditions, he hit the spot from such a wide a variety of angles and ranges that it was difficult to imagine a more masterly display of marksmanship. Forty-yarders tight to the "wrong" touchline? Piece of cake. Hell, it was Wilkinsonesque.
Goode is strapping by comparison and the more eye-catching performer with ball in hand, especially when he hurtles headlong into the heavy traffic, seemingly hell-bent on doing himself a serious mischief, only to materialise on the far side of trouble and summon a meaningful attacking move out of nothing. He scored Saracens' third try – the one that earned them a losing bonus point, which was the very least they deserved – and generally mobilised their effort as they recovered from a 23-13 deficit early in the second half.
Gloucester have had a difficult season, never once stringing two Premiership victories together. Yet under Bryan Redpath, aided and abetted by a rather more experienced Scottish coach in Sir Ian McGeechan, they are finding their way out of the dark forest and have an outside chance of qualifying for next season's Heineken Cup. Many of their most effective players – Olly Morgan, Mike Tindall, Dave Attwood, Alasdair Strokosch, Luke Narraway, Gareth Delve – were nowhere to be seen at the weekend and others were just back from injury. But there is an energy about the lesser-known likes of Burns, Charlie Sharples, Tim Molenaar and Tim Taylor that is bringing out the best in the usual suspects. If dear old Olivier Azam, that argumentative old so-and-so in the front row, has played better at any point in the last three years, he kept it very quiet.
And Saracens? Roundly condemned for playing a deeply conservative, kick-based brand of "anti-rugby" before Christmas, they have now gone all thrilling on us. Jacques Burger, a venomous-looking flanker from Namibia, is a real handful – his contribution to a brilliant opening try from Brad Barritt confirmed him as something more sophisticated than a guided missile in shorts – and given the amount of football played by Schalk Brits and Ernst Joubert in open field, the Watford-based club are not short of potent forwards.
Their scrum still needs sorting, though: they conceded four penalties and a free kick at first phase and, while their coaching staff insist things have taken a turn for the better in this area, the statistics suggest otherwise. They have a horrible run-in and even if they qualify for the play-offs, who will give them a price of surviving a trip to Welford Road or Franklin's Gardens with a set-piece of the powder-puff variety? They should get themselves a new prop. Soane Tonga'uiha sounds about right.
Scorers: Gloucester: Tries Sharples 2; Conversions Burns 2; Penalties Burns 5. Saracens: Tries Barritt, Wyles, Goode; Conversions Jackson, Hougaard; Penalties Jackson 2, Hougaard.
Gloucester: F Burns (J Pasqualin 80); C Sharples, T Molenaar (J Simpson-Daniel 40+2), E Fuimaono-Sapolu, L Vainikolo; T Taylor (N Robinson 49), R Lawson; A Dickinson (N Wood 67), O Azam (S Lawson 84), P Doran-Jones (P Capdevielle 72), W James, M Bortolami (A Brown 56), J Boer (capt), A Satala, A Eustace (A Qera 67).
Saracens: A Goode; M Tagicakibau (R Haughton 62), A Powell, B Barritt (D Hougaard 55), C Wyles; G Jackson, N De Kock; R Gill (M Aguera 34), S Brits (F Ongaro 50), P Du Plessis (R Skuse 31-40+1), H Vyvyan, M Botha (T Ryder 54), J Burger (J Melck 50), A Saull, E Joubert (capt).
Referee: D Pearson (Northumberland).
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