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Club Rugby

Gloucester 15 London Welsh 14: Exiles feel the heat of Burns in loss to Gloucester


The heart bleeds for the London Welsh playing squad. They have been kicked from pillar to post by events beyond their control and here, when off-field circumstances demanded that they come away with as many Aviva Premiership points as possible, they were denied by the misfiring Freddie Burns.

Burns, whose star was in such ascendance before Christmas, has struggled to recover his form at fly-half since returning from a knee injury.

He missed almost as many penalty goals as he kicked but his five successes for Gloucester were enough to foil the Exiles, who managed the only try of the game but could not conceal their difficulties at the set scrum.

They now trail Sale Sharks by five points at the foot of the table – exactly the same number of points they have been deducted for fielding an ineligible player, Tyson Keats, earlier in the season. The result of their appeal against that punishment, imposed after a Rugby Football Union disciplinary hearing, will be known early this week, but the players have stuck to the task ahead of them.

"There is nothing more we can do in the court of law but when we are on the field, we can do something about it," Lyn Jones, the head coach, said. And yet they cannot. Jones felt there was a case yesterday for a penalty try when Jonny May, the Gloucester left wing, deliberately knocked down a pass five metres from his own line when the Welsh had a 2-1 overlap.

Gordon Ross kicked the penalty and May left for the sin-bin. In his absence, the Welsh scored an outstanding try, started by Daniel Browne's precise line of running, augmented by James Tideswell's 20-metre burst and off-load, just short of the line, to Phil MacKenzie. Would the Canadian international have scored, however, if his marker May had been on the field?

The point, though, is that London Welsh, as has been the case all season, have to take every chance they get. Ross, who played well in the absence with a calf strain of Gavin Henson, missed the conversion of MacKenzie's try and a 28-metre penalty soon after that would have given the Exiles a 13‑point advantage.

They now have games against Bath, Northampton, London Irish and Worcester Warriors in which to sustain their place among England's elite. "What's becoming clearer is how many games we need to win and we've always said we needed six from the season," Jones said. They already have four, but how much would a successful outcome to their appeal mean?

Meanwhile Gloucester remain frustratingly outside the play-off places. On this showing they do not deserve to be there but significantly, they found a way to grind out the win they needed. It is not unusual to see players returning from international duty finding it hard to latch on to the rhythm of their club and when the midfield axis involving Burns and Billy Twelvetrees settles down again, Gloucester will recover potency.

They played an utterly forgettable first half, which ended with the scores level at 6-6 for all the efforts of Jim Hamilton to galvanise his players. When the Welsh took an eight-point lead and May was off the field, a home defeat was a distinct possibility but, to their credit, Gloucester took control of the last quarter and gave their tight five full rein.

The Welsh made life easier for them by obstructing a quick penalty tap, which took Burns 10 metres nearer the posts for his fourth goal. No more than five minutes remained when, for the seventh time in the match, the Welsh scrum was penalised and Burns kicked the 20-metre goal which brought his side relief.

Gloucester: R Cook; C Sharples, M Tindall (H Trinder, 68), B Twelvetrees, J May (M Thomas 35-37; sin-bin 44-54); F Burns, D Robson; D Murphy, H Edmonds (K Britton, 56), S Knight (D Chistolini, 56), J Hamilton (capt), W James, P Buxton (T Savage, 46), S Kalamafoni, A Hazell (A Qera, 46).

Pens: Burns 5

London Welsh: S Jewell; P MacKenzie, G Tiesi, S Parker, S Stegmann; G Ross, T Keats (A Davies, 69); T Bristow (B Moss, 76), D George (G Bateman, 77), J Tideswell (A Joly, 64), J Mills (captain), K Kulemin (M Corker, 66), J Cabello Farias, D Browne (A Balding, 74), M Hills.

Try: MacKenzie, Pens: Ross 3

Referee: M Fox (Leicester).