Burns snatches defeat from jaws of victory as he celebrates try too early and has ball knocked from his hand
It was a car-crash moment that is likely to end up in the “what happened next?” section of BBC’s A Question of Sport, but for Freddie Burns and Bath it was no laughing matter.
With the game, and possibly Bath’s hopes of making it out of a ridiculously difficult Champions Cup pool on the line, Burns had the ball knocked out of his hand as he prematurely celebrated what would have been the winning try.
To add to the embarrassment, moments earlier Burns had missed a penalty in front of the posts which, if the ball had not rebounded off the upright, would have also got Bath across the line in this enthralling contest.
You had to feel for Burns, who held his head in his hands in despair moments later when he had been substituted by director of rugby Todd Blackadder, who must have fumed at the profligacy which condemned his side to a third successive defeat.
Bath travel to Wasps next weekend and realistically only a victory will prevent their European campaign ending before the end of this month.
“We had a lot of opportunities. At times, we could have [had] a bit more pressure on them, but all in all, we probably did enough to win that game,” said Blackadder. “It’s disappointing. Freddie will be hurting, there is no doubt about that. Now is the time to rally behind him and support him. What’s done is done but what happens next is really important.
“You just need to nail those points. I don’t think it will affect his play. He is pretty tough – [he will] take this on the chin and acknowledge it. Freddie made an error, but that is often where the greatest learning comes from. He will be back on the horse ready to go next week, I’ve no doubt about that. We missed so many opportunities. There were a lot of errors.”
Maxime Medard, the Toulouse wing who knocked the ball out of Burns’s hand, had scored a first-half try following a great offload by lock Joe Tekori. He admitted he was surprised by Burns slowing down as he ran behind the posts and blowing a kiss in celebration.
“He had a lot of time to score but he hesitated,” said Medard. “I thought it was a dream. I targeted his arm because he only had the ball in one hand. I remember it happened to Vincent Clerc. You watch sevens and it happens. On Friday afternoon I actually went for a coffee with Freddie because he is friends with Maxime Mermoz.”
Blackadder must feel the world is against him right now as, in the other key moment in the game, he lost his goto player Jamie Roberts to a concussion injury at the end of the first half after a head high tackle by Toulouse No8 Jerome Kaino that looked worthy of a red card given the new crackdown on such incidents.
Kaino received a yellow card despite hitting Roberts in the head area while upright in the tackle, and Bath could manage just a sole penalty by Burns with their extra man.
It came just moments after Sofiane Guitoune had reduced the deficit to 17-12 after a dazzling, double sidestep by South Africa wing Cheslin Kolbe.
“We lose a player for the rest of the game, and they lose a player for 10 minutes,” Blackadder. “It’s exactly the scenario why they have sanctions, to protect the player. It was disappointing to lose Jamie, because he was having such a brilliant game. We will raise that. It’s disappointing.”
In truth, Burns’s bloopers were only one element of a flawed performance by Bath, who lacked consistency and direction against a Toulouse side who had enough firepower to hit them hard on the counter-attack.
Bath had scored tries by Burns and Jamie Roberts during a purple patch midway through the first half that suggested the Premiership side had been on course for a comfortable victory.
But the home side would not score again after Burns landed his second penalty in the 47th minute and it was Toulouse’s sustained surge deep into the second half that proved pivotal.
A yellow card for Bath flanker Tom Ellis for a tip-tackle on lock Rynhardt Elstadt allowed Thomas Ramos to land a penalty and then a long pass by the Toulouse full-back put Guitoune over for his second try. The conversion by Ramos gave his side the lead and despite Bath’s late rally, Burns let a victory literally slip from his fingers.
Scores 3-0 Burns pen; 3-5 Medard try; 3-7 Ramos con; 8-7 Roberts try; 10-7 Burns con; 15-7 Burns try; 17-7 Burns con; 17-12 Guitoune try; 20-12 Burns pen; 20-15 Ramos pen; 20-20 Guitoune try; 20-22 Ramos con. Bath F Burns (T Homer 77); S Rokoduguni, J Willison, J Roberts (M Wright 38), D Atkins; R Priestland, C Cook (M Green 52); N Catt (J v Rooyen 59), T Dunn (J Walker 59), H Thomas (A Perenise 58), D Attwood, L Charteris (E Stooke 52), T Ellis, F Louw (S Underhill 71), Z Mercer. Toulouse T Ramos; C Kolbe, S Guitoune, M Mermoz (P Gayraud 78), M Medard; Z Holmes (A Dupont 44), S Bezy (R Ntamack 59); L Pointud (C Castets 57), L Ghiraldini (J Marchand 42-51, 55), C Faumuina, F Verhaeghe, I Tekori, F Cros (L Madaule 68), R Elstadt, J Kaino. Referee A Brace (Ireland).
All alone: Freddie Burns is distraught after the final whistle