No celebratory Burns night this for Freddie the Gloucester fly-half on home Kingsholm turf, his missed kicks and inability to fire a backline disrupted by injury in this second-string international topped off by a bungled attempt to dive over for a try from a ruck in the last play of the match.
Burns’ fingers failed him, not that there was any guarantee he would have kicked the winning conversion if it had come to it.
Those of a white-jerseyed persuasion enjoyed a sharp try for Anthony Watson, the Bath wing attempting to make a case to play on the right wing for England against France in the Six Nations next week – rather than Chris Ashton or Jack Nowell – with Gloucester’s Jonny May favoured to be on the left. Watson pressed up in defence to be in the right place in the 26th minute and pick off a pass from Felix Jones that bounced off Craig Gilroy and run it in from 40 metres.
The conversion by Burns (right) in a capricious wind missed, and the No 10 who might have had his feet up waiting to play for England himself if the past few months had gone better, sagged in the shoulders again when his penalty attempt from 30 metres hit a post nine minutes into the second half.
The Irish, perhaps benefiting from a smaller number of source clubs to pick from – four provinces to England’s 12 premiership teams – made fewer knock-ons and had scored the opening try after just four minutes when Isaac Boss, one of 12 full internationals in the Wolfhounds’ starting team to the Saxons’ three, punished slack defending around the fringes of a maul and darted through a gap between Burns and the flanker Luke Wallace.
The second Irish try came four minutes after Watson’s score, and again relied on quick thinking and execution. Ian Madigan is third in line as Ireland’s fly-half behind Johnny Sexton and Paddy Jackson. Each of them would have been delighted with Madigan’s tap and go on the run in England’s 22 and pirouetting finish to fox the tackles of Sam Hill and Dave Ewers. The conversion was added by Madigan, who had done the same for Boss’s try.
Hill of Exeter was one of eight starting debutants for England at this level but he was injured before half-time, along with Harlequins’ Matt Hopper, so the backline alongside Burns needed extensive reconstruction. Henry Slade, Exeter’s tyro fly-half, filled in at inside centre, with Elliot Daly moved up alongside him and Rob Miller on at full-back. Burns finally found his range with a 64th minute penalty but England’s predictable attack could have used Ewers’ hard driving more often rather than going wide so quickly. Sam Dickinson might have been a better choice, and the Northampton No 8 had a few second-half trundles, but it was always heavy going on a raid-sodden surface. In a final attack, Charlie Sharples squeezed a pass to Daly who almost crawled to the line, before Freddie crashed and burned.
England Saxons: E Daly; A Watson, M Hopper (R Miller 41), S Hill (H Slade 30), C Sharples; F Burns, J Simpson (D Lewis 75); A Waller (N Catt 61), J George (D Ward 64), T Mercey (S Wilson 41), C Matthews (E Stooke 51), G Kruis, C Clark (capt), L Wallace, D Ewers (S Dickinson 51).
Ireland Wolfhounds: F Jones; F McFadden, R Henshaw (I Keatley 61), D Cave, C Gilroy (S Zebo 51); I Madigan, I Boss (K Marmion 70); D Kilcoyne (J McGrath 51), R Herring (R Strauss 41), M Moore (S Archer 51), I Henderson (R Diack 70), D Tuohy, R Ruddock (capt), T O’Donnell (J Murphy 61), R Copeland.
Referee: I Davies (Wales)