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'At Leicester last time I got sacked over lemon and herb chicken'

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

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Freddie Burns is back enjoying himself at Leicester this season, becoming an integral part of the Steve Borthwick squad that is chasing its first Gallagher Premiership/Heineken Champions Cup double since they last swept the boards in England and Europe 20 years ago. However, the former Test out-half is too well-travelled to know that things can change in an instant in rugby and how he was sacked the last time by the Tigers definitely still keeps him on his toes.

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Burns had switched to Leicester from Gloucester in 2014 but a year and a half before his contract was due to expire, he was blindsided by Simon Cohen, the then CEO, over a Nandos. Leicester at the time were suffering a severe downturn in results and Richard Cockerill was ousted as director of rugby in January 2017 with Aaron Mauger becoming caretaker boss before Matt O’Connor was appointed. 

The soon-to-be 32-year-old Burns was delighted with the restaurant invitation from the CEO but he quickly lost his appetite and wound up leaving for Bath in the summer of 2017. “The main thing I have learned in my career is it’s never personal,” said Burns on the latest RugbyPass Offload about his feelings when a club decides it no longer wants his services. 

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Episode 28 – Freddie Burns & Max Lahiff – Dropped at Nandos, Loyalty & England’s next head coach
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Episode 28 – Freddie Burns & Max Lahiff – Dropped at Nandos, Loyalty & England’s next head coach

“At Leicester last time I got sacked over lemon and herb chicken and spicy rice. I still had a year and a half on my contract and Simon Cohen, who was CEO of Leicester at the time, said, ‘Can I meet you for a Nandos?’ I said, ‘Nandos on the CEO? I don’t mind if I do’. Spicy rice, lemon and herb chicken, had one mouthful. He went, ‘Fred, we went to get rid of you’. ‘What? I think I need to go and get a refill’. There was me standing by the fizzy drinks machine wailing, ‘I’m getting sacked’.

“At the time it hurts but you look back and this is a business now. When a player leaves fans talk about where is the loyalty and all this stuff but that is gone from the game and one thing that has to change in rugby is you get a lot of people in the game preaching about family clubs and loyalty and respect and all this – but at the end of the day it is business. 

“The minute you ain’t good enough or you don’t fit in their plans they get rid of you. The same as a player, if there is a better opportunity, whether that is money, whether that is being close to family, whether that is an opportunity to play more, you just have to be selfish because it is dog eat dog out there.”

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After spending three years at Bath, Burns headed to Japan for a season before Borthwick came in with a two-year offer to bring him back to Leicester for the 2021/22 campaign. That contract still has a season and a bit to go at the moment but Burns isn’t taking anything for granted regarding his future at Tigers beyond summer 2023 and will have his agent busy to ensure he has options available to him.  

“I ask mine to,” explained Burns when asked if he keeps his agent on top of the market and what might be available for him even though he is very happy at Leicester. “I have a really good relationship with my agent but when I go into a year now where my contract is ending I am, ‘Mate, put it out there’ because you have got to. 

“The problem now with recruitment is a lot of clubs are re-signing in November, December. You get told January, end of February, sometimes it is too late so you need to front foot it. It doesn’t necessarily mean you are going anywhere but I always say you have to have options because if you get told you are not going to stay and it’s April and there are no clubs out there, without sounding too harsh it’s your own fault because you should be ahead of it and know the game. 

“In an ideal world, you’d like to think a coach would tell you in October, November. ‘Listen, you’re not in our plans next season, start looking for another club’. But that unfortunately is not the way it goes. Until they get the target they want over the line they are going to keep you just as an insurance policy. That is not me complaining or getting on my violin out, that is just how it is.”

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