Gloucester 10 Edinburgh 16: Freddie Burns’ blunders prove infectious as Gloucester’s game unravels
Edinburgh win Heineken Cup matches in England about as often as the Scotland backs score open-field tries at Test level, so the Cherry and White-striped denizens of the Kingsholm Shed will be mourning this defeat for some time to come. True to form, there was a vintage rendition of “You Don’t Know What You’re Doing” from the massed ranks of terrace supporters midway through the second half, but no one in the ground could swear hand on heart that it was aimed at the match officials – the usual recipients of choral abuse. The targets this time may just have been the playmakers in the Gloucester midfield.
Freddie Burns, routinely described as the most dynamic outside-half in England, will be the first to admit that he had a rough one, while two other decision-making backs with international experience behind them – the red-rose centre Billy Twelvetrees and the occasional Wales scrum-half Tavis Knoyle – made tactical calls of the bone-headed variety. The home side’s approach on a filthy afternoon took some believing, especially as the Gloucester scrum, an object of mirth and derision since the start of the campaign, finally found a way of bossing things.
“Field position was what we needed,” muttered Nigel Davies, the Gloucester rugby director, by way of underlining the fact that field position had been the last thing on the minds of Burns and his colleagues. “We didn’t have enough of it; we didn’t respect it. We weren’t going to score 60-metre tries in weather like that, were we? We got it badly wrong and it’s bitterly frustrating: we kicked when we should have ran, and ran when we should have kicked. These are good players we’re talking about, so it’s a mental thing.”
On his own admission, Burns is all over the place in the top two inches these days. A rare creative spirit whose performance off the England bench against the All Blacks 13 months ago appeared to signal the start of a long and potentially thrilling Test career, he has been suffering as much as anyone from the inadequacies of the Gloucester pack, which at least partially explains why he has yet to agree a contract extension at Kingsholm. Courted by Leicester, among others, he openly stated last week that he needed “an answer from myself sooner rather than later because it’s affecting my performance”.
That much was obvious yesterday as Gloucester sought to capitalise on the previous week’s win at Murrayfield and heap some pressure on Munster in the race for a place in the knockout stage of this fiercely competitive, if politically unstable, cross-border tournament. Burns worked his bits off – he knows no other way – and was smacked around by an equally committed Edinburgh back row as a consequence, but his touch and timing were miles off.
A more mature outside-half would have cut his losses by putting boot to ball more frequently, especially with the conditions in his favour after the break, but at this stage in the young West Countryman’s career, he would rather win in the grand style than win any old how.
Gloucester’s Freddie Burns is left bloodied Davies has been up to his neck in contract discussions just recently and he is determined to move things on as quickly as possible so this season’s rugby can be restored to the top of the agenda. “I wouldn’t have thought it helps anyone to be thinking of other things right now,” he said, waspishly. “It’s no long acceptable for people not to be focused fully on Gloucester rugby, irrespective of what else might be going on in their lives.” Ouch.
Edinburgh travelled south without several leading lights, including the Scotland trio of Nick de Luca, Greig Laidlaw and David Denton. They made a late change in the spine of the team, switching Greig Tonks from full-back to outside-half, and it was this move that saw Jack Cuthbert relocate to the No 15 position. Cuthbert revelled in the role, despite a late penalty attempt that had more Buster Keaton than Jonny Wilkinson about it, and it was his long-range kicking that tipped the scales towards the visitors.
That and an excellent finish from the All Black centre Ben Atiga, who ran a clever line on Tonks’ right shoulder to touch down midway through the third quarter and give the underdogs a six-point advantage they would never relinquish.
Gloucester had their chances thereafter, but their inaccuracy with ball in hand cost them dear, as did their lack control at the rucks in the face of some excellent close-quarter resistance, not least from the Lions hooker Ross Ford and the recently capped lock Grant Gilchrist. The only time they gave best was when the Gloucester pack drove a first-half maul 20 metres to the line and were awarded a penalty try for their efforts.
Whenever they look back on that score, together with events at the scrum, the home pack will scratch their heads in befuddlement. Having waited more than three months to dominate at the sharp end – the jubilant reaction of the effervescent hooker Darren Dawidiuk to every positive set-piece decision illustrated the depth of longing in the front row – their efforts were betrayed by a back division messing up in spades. The average tight-forward is a phlegmatic sort, generally speaking, but there is only so much a man can take. Retribution in training is guaranteed.
Gloucester: Try Penalty try; Conversion Burns; Penalty Burns. Edinburgh: Try Atiga; Conversion Cuthbert; Penalties Cuthbert 3.
Gloucester R Cook; M Thomas (C Sharples 64), H Trinder (M Tindall 58), W Twelvetrees (capt), J May; F Burns (Tindall 24-31), T Knoyle (D Robson 48); Y Thomas (D Murphy 64), D Dawidiuk (H Edmonds 73), S Knight (S Puafisi 45), E Stooke, J Hudson, S Kalamafoni (T Hicks 68), M Kvesic (M Cox 64), B Morgan.
Edinburgh J Cuthbert; D Fife, J Dominguez, B Atiga, T Brown; G Tonks, G Hart; L Blaauw (A Dickinson 45), R Ford (capt), W Nel, G Gilchrist, I Van der Westhuizen (O Atkins 48), T Leonardi (R Rennie 70), R Grant, C Du Preez.
Referee R Poite (France).
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