Bath-bound fly-half out to leave his mark with tro­phy at Tigers

The Rugby Paper - - News - ■ By NEALE HAR­VEY

FRED­DIE Burns is out to prove Le­ices­ter were wrong to ditch him for Ge­orge Ford by lead­ing the club to an un­ex­pected Premier­ship ti­tle tri­umph.

Le­ices­ter squeaked into the play-offs for a thir­teenth suc­ces­sive year and Burns – a makeweight in the deal that will see him join Bath this sum­mer while Eng­land play­maker Ford trav­els in the op­po­site di­rec­tion – is de­ter­mined to exit Tigers on a high.

Burns, voted Le­ices­ter’s player-of-the-year by their sup­port­ers, told The Rugby Pa­per: “I’m really ex­cited to be go­ing to Bath this sum­mer be­cause the op­por­tu­nity to play for my home town club is one I thought I’d never get.

“I feel I’m in a really good place and Bath are a club to bring out the best of me, while I can add some­thing to them as well, but, with­out go­ing into the pol­i­tics of it all too much, things could have been han­dled a lot bet­ter.

“As a player, when a club deems you not good enough or their ac­tions in sign­ing an­other player show they’d rather have some­one else, it’s a bit­ter pill to swal­low. But that’s sport, it’s peo­ple’s opin­ions and you have to do what’s best for you.

“The best way for me after sign­ing a three-year con­tract at Bath – some­thing that fills me with great pride – is to hold my head high and prove a point by fin­ish­ing well at Tigers.

Burns added: “We’ve not beaten any of the three teams above us in the league this year so we’ll be sig­nif­i­cant un­der­dogs in the semi-fi­nals, but that will add pres­sure on the home team and whether it’s Ex­eter, Sara­cens or Wasps, we’ll go there with no fear.

“Matt O’Con­nor’s come in and it feels like a very dif­fer­ent en­vi­ron­ment, so we’ll be a bit of an un­known to other teams in that they won’t know what we’ll bring.”

Burns has han­dled him­self with great dig­nity since news of his swap deal with Ford broke in Fe­bru­ary, lead­ing the club to an An­glo-Welsh Cup tri­umph and now the play-offs.

He ex­plained: “It was a case of not clock­ing off early and prov­ing a few points. I had good mo­ti­va­tion so I’ve just gone out to en­joy my last few months as a Tiger.

“I’ve been for­tu­nate to have a pretty spe­cial re­la­tion­ship with the sup­port­ers and I’ll al­ways be grate­ful for the way they’ve stuck by me and shown faith, so to put some sil­ver­ware in the cab­i­net for the first time in four years was mas­sive for us all.

“The way they’ve re­acted to news I was leav­ing and the send-off they gave me after the Sale game last week­end meant a great deal to me and my fam­ily.”

Burns re­ceived an­other snub two weeks ago when the rel­a­tively un­known New Zealand-based fly-half Piers Fran­cis was se­lected for Eng­land’s tour of Ar­gentina.

Burns has not given up on Eng­land, though, say­ing: “I’ve had no chats with Ed­die Jones and when I went off the boil a cou­ple of years ago it was prob­a­bly be­cause I was too fo­cused on mak­ing a World Cup squad and do­ing things the Eng­land way.

“I’d love to play for Eng­land again and I’ve got a huge driv­ing am­bi­tion to get there, but all I can do is play well next sea­son for Bath and hope Ed­die calls.

“I’ve had a good 18 months and feel I’m in a great po­si­tion to go to Bath and really push on by bring­ing the best out of the strong squad they have.”

Iron­i­cally, Burns’ kick­ing stats – not al­ways seen as a strength – are bet­ter than his Eng­land ri­vals.

Of the Premier­ship’s reg­u­lar kick­ers, Burns’ 83.6 per cent suc­cess leaves him third be­hind brother Billy (84.2), of Glouces­ter, and Ex­eter’s Gareth Steen­son (84.0), with Eng­land men Owen Far­rell (74.4), Ford (71.4) and Alex Lo­zowski (69.7) all trail­ing.

Burns said: “I did a lot of work with Paul Grayson and it’s all about con­fi­dence.

“It’s great to see Bill up there and if he can win the Chal­lenge Cup this week and we pull off some­thing in the Premier­ship, it will be a spe­cial year for the Burns fam­ily!”

PIC­TURE: Getty Images

Ti­tle in his sights: Fred­die Burns wants to exit with a Premier­ship suc­cess

Coach: Matt O’Con­nor

Swap shop: Ge­orge Ford re­places Burns at Tigers

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