Gloucester Rugby v Sale Sharks: Dead-eye Burns on target
GLOUCESTER RUGBY 29 SALE SHARKS 3
AS IMPERIOUS fly-half Freddie Burns held court underneath the stands of Kingsholm, England rival Toby Flood was enduring a torrid opening six minutes at Twickenham.
Premiership player of the month Burns, relaxed after another assured league performance, explained how less practice has proved more productive on the goal-kicking front.
While the 22-year-old espoused the need to stay loose when striking for goal, the video screens behind him bore witness to England and Flood's sticky start against South Africa.
Gents, come in to Earl's & Co and enjoy a haircut and finish, glass of whisky and a shoeshine for £18.50
Terms: Later and earlier appointments available upon request
Contact: 01242 504887
Valid until: Tuesday, December 31 2013
There was the flawless Gloucester playmaker – the Premiership's leading points-scorer – running the rule over his perfect kicking return – while Flood shanked a sitter in the background.
England-wise, Burns said all he can do is keep plugging away – and at that moment Flood spilled a ball in a tackle and was promptly rucked off the ball by the fervent South African raiders.
Now granted hapless Sale are certainly no Springboks, but that vindictive mistress irony beamed a haunting juxtaposition right across Kingsholm.
Gloucester boss Nigel Davies believes it is inevitable Burns will wind up winning his England bow sooner rather than later.
As for Burns himself – for now – he will just enjoy the 'armchair ride' handed out by Gloucester's dominant forward pack.
"If anything I've done less work on the kicking front," admitted the attack-minded creator, replaying his haul of five first-half penalty goals. "I just chill out.
"When I was younger I was naturally quite good at kicking the ball in a straight line, so it's just a case of chilling out and kicking the ball, and luckily it keeps going over at the minute.
"This week with the weather I didn't kick until Friday, I only did one kicking session.
"I didn't get caught up in it, because it can affect your game if you over-think it.
"And I'm lucky that they're coming off the boot alright at the minute.
"If they start missing I might have to re-evaluate that style, but hopefully I can keep knocking them over.
"The boys up front are giving me an armchair ride at the moment, and you look at someone with Danny Cipriani's ability, on the back foot he couldn't do much.
"So as long as they keep putting me on the front-foot hopefully I can keep knocking on the door."
Forget knocking on it, Burns will blast that door off its shaky hinges if Stuart Lancaster comes to his senses.
Burns said Gloucester's pack 'took a decent Sale scrum to pieces' in this comprehensive victory – fewer assessments will prove more succinct and accurate this season.
Times were when Burns would seize any and every chance to terrorise a defence on foot.
No more. The maturing game changer exhibited near faultless sensitivity for when to run, and when to put boot to ball in this clash.
His one false move was to chip a late first-half penalty cross-field, trying to catch Sale unawares and send Charlie Sharples home and dry.
England discard Sharples claimed the cheeky kick, but the sodden turf and the scrambling defence ensured he had no chance of stealing a score.
Had Burns knocked over a sixth first-half penalty instead, Gloucester would have eased to the break in total control.
Instead Sale flailed to an unlikely foothold, Sam Tuitupou, Charlie Amesbury and Cipriani offering impressive contributions.
Cipriani slotted a penalty of his own as Sale claimed at least some reward for their endeavour.
But the North West club are in all sorts of trouble.
Star fly-half Cipriani might be labelled a show pony, but the talented playmaker was one of the few Sharks to put team first in a totally flat performance.
Andy Powell needs to abandon his mindless determination to seek contact, and cut lines that benefit the team – but Sale's greatest problems are at the scrum.
Steve Diamond's machinations helped prise Bryan Redpath from Kingsholm last term, but as things stand Sale's chief executive's all-too public courtship of the Scot has backfired big time.
The pantomime booing of Redpath when his face hit the Kingsholm big screens was inevitable, if a tad harsh, but if Sale want to cure their ills, perhaps they should examine the common denominator – the man in overall control of rugby issues.
Poetic justice was etched all over Diamond's face as his side capitulated to their eighth defeat in nine league matches.
Just seven months separate this businesslike victory and Gloucester's rudderless 24-19 Sale defeat last term.
Nigel Davies' Kingsholm overhaul continues to gather pace, and Cherry and Whites fans will be right to revel in this result, and the club's impressive, measured progress.
Akapusi Qera claimed the match-sealing try just past the hour, blasting onto an inviting inside pass from the excellent Jimmy Cowan.
And then Gloucester's pack wiped their boots on Sale bodies as the visiting scrum disintegrated, forcing referee Luke Pearce to trot under the sticks and award the rightful penalty try.
Sale conceded a mammoth 21 penalties, more than half at the scrum.
That total domination was enough in itself to hand Gloucester the victory.
Burns continues to excite and impress: surely this is a player of not just international quality, but maybe even a man to spark something special on the game's biggest stage.
But while the down-to-earth outside-half is carving a first-class niche, Billy Twelvetrees is also chipping away at that very same crevice.
Breakdown Billy commands the tackle area like an openside flanker, defends like a demon and can cut the line with the best of them.
But the estimable centre is always an outlet for Burns, be it safety net or corresponding end of Gloucester's playmaking pivot.
This was far from Gloucester's best performance this term – but still the Cherry and Whites won with something to spare – what a difference this new coach has made.
Gloucester Rugby: R Cook, C Sharples, M Tindall To Molenaar, 78), B Twelvetrees, S Monahan, F Burns, J Cowan (D Robson, 67),D Murphy (N Wood, 50), H Edmonds (K Britton, 50), R Harden (S Knight, 59), W James, J Hamilton (R Moriarty, 76), T Savage, A Qera, S Kalamafoni (M Cox, 73) Unused: M Thomas.
SALE SHARKS: R Miller, C Amesbury, W Addison (C Shepherd, 78), S Tuitupou, M Cueto, D Cipriani (N Macleod, 64), D Peel (W Cliff, 64), R Harrison (E Lewis-Roberts, 55), T Taylor (J Ward, 55), T Buckley (V Cobilas, 55), F McKenzie (J Gaskell, 62), K Myall, R Vernon, D Seymour (capt), A Powell. Unused: T Holmes.
REFEREE: Luke Pearce.