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