Our focus is to finish in the top four, says Burns
THE future of the Heineken Cup has no bearing on Gloucester's season, believes Freddie Burns.
The Kingsholm fly-half enjoys first-grade European action and desperately wants to see the under-fire tournament saved.
But the 23-year-old said the Gloucester squad will lose little sleep over European uncertainty for next term and beyond.
Premiership Rugby are pushing on with forming the new Rugby Champions Cup, still hoping other country's club bodies will follow suit.
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With no guaranteed European rugby next season, clearly no one knows whether the traditional top-six Premiership finish will be enough to secure a seat in top continental competition.
Gloucester host Exeter Chiefs at Kingsholm tomorrow (2pm), with Burns primed for a reunion with old Kingsholm comrade and former flatmate Dave Lewis.
The Chiefs edged out Gloucester 40-39 in the final game of last season, Exeter claiming the final Heineken Cup spot in a breathless encounter.
Brutal European qualification processes help eliminate end-of-season dead rubbers in the Premiership, leading to classics like that Sandy Park thriller in May.
Burns believes European challenges naturally raise the Premiership standard.
The England playmaker has rejected any unsettling thoughts about Heineken Cup longevity though – because he said Gloucester's season objectives remain crystal clear.
Qualifying for Europe has always been tough – but Burns and Gloucester still have eyes on the Premiership's top prize. "We've always said we want top four, and nothing changes," asserted the Bath-born pivot.
"If you want to win a Premiership then you need that top-four finish so you can then have a crack at the play-offs.
"Nothing changes from that point of view so we've just got to let it play out.
"We've got to stay focused on the action, the challenges and the big games on the field.
"It's for the CEOs, boards, administrators and the like to make all those kinds of arrangements.
"We've got to keep working hard and battling to improve.
"We're aware of what's happening but we can't have an impact on that, so we just have to get on with it.
"Last year we were playing teams like Mont de Marsan away, and people you're fighting for positions are taking on Toulouse and Racing Metro.
"It's just that whole respect thing: you're expected to pull the strings against potential lesser European sides, but if you can do it against a Munster or a Perpignan, people will sit up and take note.
"You're more than aware of recognition that comes with strong Heineken performances.
"We worked so hard to get into the Heineken last year, and it was a huge goal to get into that top six.
"We had to pull out a massive performance against Sarries to get there.
"So much hard work goes into even qualifying for that tournament, I just think it would be a real shame for it not to be there.
"It's a chance for the best players in the northern hemisphere to show their stuff.
"Exeter are a quality team. That game we lost down there was hugely enjoyable, but obviously frustrating still to lose.
"They are a team that wants to play rugby, they've established themselves and then pushed forward too.
"It's two similar clubs – traditional but ambitious, and they will come up and have a go at us after losing to Leicester.
"They will hold that no-fear attitude coming to Kingsholm, so it's important we're in the right frame of mind.
"A result here would cap off a tricky start to the season for us and leave us in reasonable shape."
Admitting it will be strange to find old friend and half-back partner Lewis in the opposition camp tomorrow, Burns said the 24-year-old is finding his niche at Exeter.
Burns continued: "I had lunch with Dave on Monday; we had a sit-down and a chat.
"It will be weird to go up against him, but you build great friends right across the Premiership not just at your own club.
"In a strange way big rivalry can help improve friendships and bring you closer together in some respects.
"It's great to see him down there getting a lot of game-time.
"Once you're in the heat of battle you don't really worry too much who you're up against though.
"There might be a few comments here or there but beyond that it will be fun.
"I'm happy to see him down there getting regular rugby and doing well.
"He went a couple of years at Gloucester without as frequent rugby as he would have liked, but now he's pushing Haydn Thomas for a start.
"I hope he comes on and does well – just not too well!
Second row James Hudson will line up alongside skipper Tom Savage when he makes his debut tomorrow.
He is one of half-a-dozen changes to the line-up that started against Newcastle.
Props Yann Thomas and Rupert Harden both come into the front row, having been named among the replacements at Newcastle, to complete the changes in the pack.
In the backs, Tavis Knoyle starts at scrum-half, Mike Tindall replaces Henry Trin- der, who tweaked a hamstring in the closing stages at Kingston Park, and full-back Martyn Thomas will make his first start of the season.
Gloucester: Thomas; Sharples, Tindall, Twelvetrees, Simpson- Daniel; Burns, Knoyle; Thomas, Dawidiuk, Harden; Savage, Hudson; Kalamafoni, Kvesic, Morgan. Reps: Edmonds, Murphy, Knight, Stooke, Evans, Robson, May, Qera.